Although it has yet to see an increase in its clientele due to economic hardships dished out by the Coronavirus, the Watertown Food Pantry is asking the public to continue making donations, because its organizers are unsure what the future holds.
Arlene Krause, president of the pantry’s board, said the organization is out of eggs and bread — two staple commodities that are being rationed at many Wisconsin grocery stores.
“We usually get our bread from Brownberry and they are closed right now,” Krause said. “At Kwik Trip, there is a limit (on how many, of certain items, people can buy in the store).”
The Watertown Food Pantry is a non-profit, Christian-based organization created to provide food at no cost to individuals and families living in the Watertown School District who are economically distressed.
The service is available to anyone who qualifies as having an income below nationally established poverty levels. The pantry serves between 200 and 300 families per month and has more than 80 volunteers who assist with the daily distribution of food, sorting and food pick-up.
Krause said although the pantry is housed at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, 209 N. Ninth St., the church is currently closed. She said clients of the food pantry should now access it during its regular weekday business hours through a south entrance to the church that is clearly labeled. She said people wishing to make donations should contact the food pantry to schedule a time to make contributions.
“We cannot accept deliveries unless someone calls the church ahead of time,” she said, adding the number to call is 920-261-1663. At this point, walk-in donations are not being accepted.
The pantry deals in food and beverage items only. A “personal essentials” pantry, that issues such things as toiletries and paper products, also exists, but is not connected to the food outlet. The personal essentials service is currently suspended.
Krause said the pantry issues vouchers that people can take to Kwik Trip or Piggly Wiggly to obtain milk. Milk was available at the pantry Wednesday, having apparently appeared magically overnight to the amazement of volunteers.
“We issue one milk voucher per family or individual and at the end of the month we get a bill from the stores,” Krause said. She said these bills are usually covered by cash donations.
Clients are permitted to visit the food pantry once every 30 days. One family per address is allowed to come in.
“This means that if there are two families at the same address, they are ‘one family’ for food pantry purposes. It’s an across-the-board thing — they can visit once every 30 days,” Krause said.
According to Krause, the pantry, can use “just about everything” in terms of food donations.
“We normally hand out cereal, dry milk, crackers, syrup, pancake mix, canned vegetables and soup, canned tuna and lunch meat, stew, chicken breasts and canned fruit. In season, we are happy to receive vegetables and fruit,” she said. Also among many items available are Jell-O, flour, sugar, ketchup, cooking oil, as well as tomato, orange and grape juices. Rounding out offerings are canned spaghetti sauce, pasta, and rice.
Somewhat surprisingly in this COVID-19 crisis era, when stores are quickly depleted of their rice and pasta, the Watertown Food Pantry ha these items in relative abundance this week. Krause said this is due, in part, to these items arriving courtesy of the government.
“We get some government assistance in food,” she said.
Krause said volunteers work to ensure food is fresh and a goal of their sorting is to issue perishable items logically, according to their expiration, or “best when used-by,” dates.
“We also hand out cheese and bread, and families get some sort of meat,” Krause said. “We have ground beef, hot dogs, chicken, turkey, ham. We always seem to have hot dogs, chicken, ground beef and cheese. The issuance of all of those are dependent on the size of the family.”
“Free shelves,” as they are labeled, are where ground coffee and hot chocolate mix can be found. Surprisingly, there were two boxes of couscous there Wednesday.
“You might even find some sauerkraut,” Krause said.
According to its website, operational procedures during Covid-19 will include daytime hours of operation remaining the same. They are Monday, 10 a.m.-noon; Tuesday, 1-3 p.m.; Wednesday, noon-2 p.m.; Thursday, 1-3 p.m. and Friday, 10 a.m.-noon. The pantry is not open Thursday evenings for the foreseeable future.
Patrons will not be allowed in the building until 30 minutes before the pantry opens to get in line. Doors will not be unlocked until 30 minutes prior to the pantry opening. Only 10 patrons, including family members, will be permitted in the waiting room at one time. Others will need to wait in Fellowship Hall and their number may not exceed 10.
Clients will not be allowed to enter the pantry, as they once did. They now stand in the hallway at a table and work directly with the volunteers to fill orders. They are also asked to wash their hands before their number is called.
All paperwork is completed by volunteers. Signatures will not be required on paperwork during this time. Carts are sanitized by volunteers between uses.
“If a patron appears to have health concerns that may be indications of illness, pantry workers will ask them to wait by the entrance while they prepare a bag for them,” information from the pantry stated.
As the pantry braces as best it can for the unknown, Krause said the executive board has its revised operational procedures and volunteers are aware of the changes.
At this point, according to Krause, if the COVID-19 threat lasts a long time, the pantry might find it’s clientele growing by leaps and bounds.
“There has just not been enough time to know how we will be affected,” she said. “Right now our clientele numbers are average. We just want to make sure we thank all the people who donated in the past and those who will donate in the future. We appreciate the giving spirit of the Watertown community to help those less fortunate.”
Addressing the safety of volunteers, Krause said the pantry is giving them the option to continue their charitable work, or put their duties on hold. Many, such as Jan Runge on Wednesday afternoon, bring in surgical gloves or apply hand sanitizer frequently. Runge even came to her shift armed with her own homemade disinfectant to use on a tables, desks and other surfaces.
“My sister said, ‘You can’t go in there,’” Runge said as she cleaned the food distribution area. “But I have to. I’m gloved-up and I’ve got my bleach solution to protect everyone. There are so many people who just need a loaf of bread — who are ‘food-insecure.’ This is such a good service for people who need it. So I am here.”