The shelves at the Waupaca Area Food Pantry are well-stocked these days.
“Usually, this is a bad time for us. Christmas bills come due. The giving spirit is gone. Income taxes are due,” said Kathy Jenner, who is the volunteer operations manager at the food pantry.
But this year, the situation is much different there.
The food pantry is in good shape, thanks to recent donations from churches and schools.
St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community donated more than 1,000 pounds of food, Waupaca Learning Center donated more than 1,500 pounds, and on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 60 first-grade students from Chain O’ Lakes Elementary School brought 529 food items to the food pantry, she said.
A donation is also expected from Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church, and several other area churches, including Trinity Lutheran Church, took advantage of the recent Super Bowl spirit by encouraging members of their congregations to donate food to the pantry.
“Right now, we seem to be doing well,” Jenner said. “Waupaca has always responded so generously.”
That is good news for the food pantry since on average, it serves between 200 and 220 families each month.
Open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the food pantry is located on South Main Street, next to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
It serves residents of the Waupaca School District. Clients can visit the pantry once a month and are given enough food to last them three to five days.
“We believe it probably lasts seven to 10 days,” Jenner said of the amount of food families receive. “We are so blessed in this community. Donations mean we can give out more.”
The first-grade students from Chain O’ Lakes Elementary learned just how important their donations are to the community.
“A little more than one-third of the people who come here have kids,” she told them. “We also serve senior citizens who are on fixed incomes and the disabled who can’t work.”
In the summer, the food pantry receives produce from the Waupaca Community Garden, and when winter is set to arrive, hats and mittens are often donated for the clients.
More than 100 people volunteer at the pantry.
Some volunteer once a month, helping to unload the food donated by the government that arrives by truck.
Others drive to Waupaca grocery stores to pick up the day-old bread that they donate to the pantry, and about six volunteers are on hand each day the food pantry is open to help clients choose the food items they need and to also stock the shelves of the pantry.
Jenner told the students that the food pantry receives food donations from the government, churches, grocery stores and from food drives such as the one they had.
“Great people like you guys bring food, which is so awesome,” Jenner said.
The school’s first-grade students collected the food items as part of their 100 Ways to Care, held in conjunction with the 100th day of school, which was Feb. 11.
This is the third year students celebrated that milestone in the school year by holding a food drive.
Teachers say it is a way to use what they learn in the classroom while also teaching them valuable lessons about service.
Lori Zelinske said the students used their math skills to keep track of how many food items were collected.
The challenge, Pat Hunter said, was for each of the four classes to bring in at least 100 food items. They met and surpassed that challenge.
She said initially, the students concentrated on being the “winning” class but learned during subsequent conversations that the real winners are the families who receive the food that was donated.
“It’s a great project,” said Nate Schmidt, and Brian Kurzynski said, “It’s just a valuable experience for kids, I think, to see how kids, even first-graders with their friends, can help others, can help the community.”