Each month, about 224 families from throughout the Waupaca School District visit the Waupaca Area Food Pantry.
“Overall, we’re probably up 5 percent from last year,” said Kathy Jenner, who is the pantry’s volunteer operations manager.
She said the average size of the family visiting the pantry has always been a little over two people.
“I think what we’re seeing is an increase in single-family households coming for help, and they span the age range. If you look at the faces in the pantry they are seniors, and a lot of them are with small children,” she said. “A lot of seniors on fixed incomes have to decide whether to buy medication or food.”
The pantry also sees families in which both parents are working but need help.
School district residents whose household income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to visit the pantry, and they may do so once a month.
“We give them 50 to 60 pounds of food per visit,” Jenner said.
That allotment is for a family of one to three and is equivalent to $100.
This is the time of year the pantry begins to see its numbers increase while food donations begin to dwindle. Both trends are related to the school year.
The pantry receives numerous donations during the school year from students, churches and civic groups.
Food donations drop during the summer, when school is out and people go on vacation, Jenner said.
In addition, during the school year, eligible students receive food for the weekend through Project Backpack.
Jenner said when they looked at the pantry’s statistics from the past year, the numbers stayed about the same but the number of children being served by the pantry dropped.
“We think that is because of the firm establishment of Project Backpack,” she said.
However, when the “program stops in the summer, the children numbers go up,” Jenner said.
That is why the National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive arrives at just the right time for the local nonprofit.
“The postal drive helps get us over the summer hump,” Jenner said.
Howard Pope, a letter carrier for Waupaca’s Post Office, is once again organizing the local drive, which will take place on Saturday, May 9.
“Last year, we experienced a tremendous success with our food drive,” he said.
Almost 10,000 pounds of food was collected for the Waupaca Area Food Pantry.
“That is about 3,000 pounds over what we’ve done in the past,” said Jenner.
With about 7,500 bags set to be distributed for this year’s food drive, Linda Holtebeck, president of the pantry’s board, said if each recipient of one of those bags put two cans inside it, the pantry would exceed the amount of food collected last year.
“If everybody gives just a little bit, it all accumulates,” she said.
Post offices in Ogdensburg, Manawa, Iola and Scandinavia will also hold Stamp Out Hunger food drives on May 9. Their efforts support food pantries in their communities.
The annual food drive began in 1991 before being revamped in 1993.
Nationwide, the drive collected 73 million pounds of food in 2014, making it the 11th consecutive year the drive collected more than 70 million pounds of food, Pope said.
“More than 49 million Americans are at risk of being food insecure. One in five children are,” he said.
In Wisconsin, one in eight families are food insecure, Jenner said.
A total of 13.5 percent of the state’s population is living at or below the poverty level, and in Waupaca, 15 percent of the population is at or below the poverty level.
Last year, the Waupaca Area Food Pantry distributed about 160,000 pounds of food and grocery products to 2,693 families, representing 6,137 people in the school district.
Pope said there are different programs taking place throughout the year, and they all have the same mission: to reduce, if not eliminate hunger.
Within a week of this year’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, plastic blue bags will be distributed.
Area residents may also expect to see postcards, reminding them of the food drive.
The local drive has many of the same sponsors as last year, as well as new ones.
On the day of the food drive, people are asked to place their donations outside by 8 a.m.
Volunteers and carriers will collect the food donations.
There will be a bin in the lobby of the post office the week of the drive, as well as bins in local businesses as part of the food drive.
People may also drop off their blue bags filled with donations directly at the food pantry, which is open from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The pantry asks people are to donate non-perishable items and said soup and crackers are always items needed.
Items in glass, homemade items and food which is expired or in dented cans will not be accepted.
Waupaca’s farm market will also serve as a collection site on May 9. Find the market either outside on the city square or in the lobby between city hall and the library.
“We’ve always had great support,” Holtebeck said of the community. “I think people who start to donate here and come here and see what’s going on realize it is needed. We would love people to come and see what we’re doing. We’re always available for a tour.”
Pope has a goal for this year’s local food drive.
“We want to break that 10,000 mark,” he said. “That’s our goal, because it’s all going to good use.”