A Thanksgiving turkey dinner isn’t a reality for some Chippewa Valley families.
Community members struggling to pay for food often are more financially stressed during the holiday season, local nonprofit leaders said — but local food banks and pantries are preparing for increased demand.
Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire receives and distributes more food during the holiday season than during the rest of the year, said executive director Emily Moore.
“Some folks might have been fine with managing just their nuclear family, but if they have more company, they might need more food,” Moore said.
Feed My People supplies food to dozens of western Wisconsin hunger-relief agencies, including Stepping Stones of Dunn County, a Menomonie-based food and shelter nonprofit that hosts a food pantry.
Stepping Stones’ food pantry has seen an increase in visitors the week of Thanksgiving, said executive director Katherine Dutton. It served 73 families Monday; it averages 53 families per day.
Dutton attributes the rush to the Thanksgiving holiday as well as a snowstorm that hit the Chippewa Valley Tuesday night.
During cold weather, “people are often making choices between food and paying for their heat or their fuel,” Dutton said.
But those people might not miss out on a turkey for Thanksgiving. Stepping Stones gave away close to 100 turkeys this November, having purchased between 20 and 30 and received the rest through donations.
St. Francis Food Pantry in Eau Claire also sees “a huge influx of new people” during the holidays, said the pantry’s assistant director Catrina Fox.
The pantry sees about 1,200 families per week, but in November and December, that number ticks up to about 1,400 per week, Fox said.
“They might make it week-to-week normally, but when it comes to holiday meals, they get harder and more expensive,” Fox said. “We’re here to supplement other sources, so we encourage people to use as many food pantries in the area as they can.”
Upswing in volunteers
Despite higher demand, Feed My People usually sees more volunteers and donations during the holidays, Moore said.
“Donors are really in a giving spirit this time of year, with money and food and also with time,” Moore said. “We’ve welcomed that because it helps us keep going during the busy season.”
Feed My People also got an early holiday gift: It’s their first cold-weather season in their newly-expanded facility.
The food bank doubled the size of its 2610 Alpine Road location this year, from 19,000 to 45,000 square feet, completing the project in September, according to its annual report. The expansion tripled cooler space and dock spaces to distribute food and doubled space for pallets and a volunteer work area.
“It has made a significant difference,” Moore said. “We have more spaces for volunteers to work. They can be labeling cans, driving trucks, unloading food, all these things can happen simultaneously.”
Dutton asked community members to consider donating or volunteering year-round, not only during the holidays.
“The needs are really great,” she said. “Not only during the holidays but throughout the year.”
St. Francis Food Pantry is located at 1221 Truax Blvd., Eau Claire. Stepping Stones of Dunn County is located at 1602 Stout Road, Menomonie.