GREEN BAY – Manna for Life Ministries, a nonprofit organization that offers one of the largest food pantries in the Green Bay area, has seen an increasingly varied client base since the COVID-19 pandemic, with people from all walks of life facing food insecurity, operations manager Peter Silski said.
"You can just look by checking out the parking lot on a day that the food pantry is open, and just seeing the different makes and models of cars, you can tell that it's affecting more people these days, the need for food and for donated food," Silski said. "People are being placed in a different position now where they've got to choose between keeping their lights on, keeping gas in their tank, clothing their children and being able to have basic nutrition needs met."
Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as "a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food."
Patti Habeck, CEO and president of Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, said people are struggling financially and facing food insecurity due to a variety of factors, including inflation and supply chain issues spurred on by the pandemic.
How Manna for Life Ministries is helping those struggling in Brown County
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin has been "really stretched" by increasing demand, high costs of gas and limited drivers, Habeck said.
"We need our communities more than ever to be around this issue," she said.
According to data from Feeding America, 8% of people in Brown County are food insecure.
Manna for Life Ministries, located at 1545 University Ave., is one of 19 Feeding America partners in Brown County. The nonprofit is a food pantry and thrift store that offers basic necessities to community members in need. Through Feeding America, Manna for Life Ministries receives food from local stores like Walmart, Target, Sam's Club and Kwik Trip that is nearing its sell-by date and offers it to community members in need.
Manna for Life Ministries' food pantry is open Thursdays, but Silski said they always have food available for emergency situations when the thrift store is open Monday through Saturday. People are asked only to prove they are a Green Bay or Brown County resident.
"All they need is to provide an identification, because what we found out recently is that income levels (don't) necessarily matter," Silski said.
Golden House domestic violence shelter is important resource
Feeding America not only partners with food pantries, but also shelters like Golden House, a domestic violence shelter in Green Bay.
Golden House receives all its food for residents through Feeding America.
Marissa Heim, Golden House's grant and outreach manager, said Feeding America donates food to the shelter once a month, which staff stocks and prepares in the shelter's kitchen.
"Our residents, when they live with us, don't have to worry about buying groceries or paying for anything, we're providing all of that for them," Heim said.
During 2021, Golden House had 476 people live in its shelter. The shelter accepts its residents based off immediate safety, with no set time limit for how long they can stay, Heim said.
The Brown County Food & Hunger Network, a collaborative group of food pantries, volunteers and community partners, works to alleviate food insecurity in Brown County. One of the participating agencies is UW-Madison Division of Extension-Brown County, which collects data from participating food pantries.
Clarice Martell, the FoodWIse Healthy Communities coordinator for UW-Madison Division of Extension-Brown County, said usage of food pantries has gradually increased since September 2021, with particularly high numbers of people using food pantry services in March.
Food insecurity is rising among families in Brown County
Martell said pantries in the Brown County Food & Hunger Network have reported both increasing need and a changing demographic.
"They're seeing more families who are using the pantry and clients that they've never seen before," Martell said.
The change is likely due to a number of factors coming out of the pandemic, Martell said, including high grocery prices due to inflation, the ending the federal eviction moratorium in August 2021 — which meant many people could no longer afford to not pay their rent on time — and increased prices of school lunches, with this school year ending universal free school meals through American Rescue Plan Act funding.
Since 1999, Extension Brown County has conducted a food security survey at nine Brown County food pantries about every five years. Martell said the last survey was conducted in 2014, because the 2020 survey was postponed due to the pandemic. The next survey will take place this October and November, Martell said.
In 2014, 45% of households surveyed at food pantries were considered food insecure, meaning they fell under the USDA's guidelines of not having regular access to adequate food for one or more household members at some point during the year. That number had gone down significantly since the 2009 survey, right after the Great Recession, when 89% of people surveyed were food insecure.
Looking to help support people in the Brown County community?
Stock the Shelves is an annual campaign by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in partnership with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin which asks readers to donate money to help fight hunger in their local communities. The donation window is open during October.
Last year, thanks to the generosity of readers, more than $163,000 was raised through the campaign, providing more than 652,000 meals to those in need in communities served by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Stock the Shelves aims to help those in need in the communities served by the following Wisconsin newspapers: Appleton Post-Crescent, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Oshkosh Northwestern, Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, Sheboygan Press, Fond du Lac Reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wausau Daily Herald, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Marshfield News Herald, Stevens Point Journal, Door County Advocate, Oconto County Reporter and Kewaunee County Star-News.
Donations will help support the community in which the donor resides.
Checks should be made payable to Feeding American Eastern Wisconsin, ATTN: Stock the Shelves, and mailed to 2911 W. Evergreen Drive, Appleton WI 54913. Enclose alongside your contribution the donor’s address with city, state and ZIP code for internal processing, a notation of whether the donation should remain anonymous, whether the donation is in the memory of someone special, and the donor’s name as it should appear in the thank-you advertisement to be published in the Thanksgiving edition of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s daily newspapers.
To donate online, visit feedingamericawi.org/stocktheshelvesdonate/.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Green Bay, Brown County residents face food insecurity. How to help.