Optimist Club hears about Sauk Prairie Area Food Pantry

Optimist Club hears about Sauk Prairie Area Food Pantry

At their March 3 virtual Zoom meeting, the Sauk Prairie Optimist Club welcomed guest speaker, Kris Ballweg, director of the Sauk Prairie Area Food Pantry (SPAFP). Pop-up food distributions at Bluffview, the “backpack program”, which was moved to the Food Pantry from 6:8, and various types of “bags” for patrons of the Pantry were explained. The “backpack program” provides boxes of food to 135 school families at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring, and Summer breaks. Other bags, that are given out at distributions, in addition to boxes of dry goods and the cooler and freezer bags, have themes which can range from personal products, soup fixings to baking bags and breakfast bags. Food Share is a program in which families receive cards, can go to the grocery store and pick out what they want. When the Food Share program increases benefits, the use of the Food Pantry tends to go down. The Pantry has five distributions a month on the first, second, and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 5:30-6:30 pm and on the third Wednesday and Saturday from 9:30-10:30 am. Due to the pandemic, the distributions are “drive-thru” with volunteers loading up their boxes and bags. The families describe this process as “fast” and “efficient.” However, “This type of distribution takes more work to get ready,” said Ballweg as boxes and bags must be packed and ready to go at distribution times rather than patrons coming into the pantry and selecting items off the shelves, with a limit of how much food can be selected in each food area. To qualify for Food Pantry assistance is quite easy. A person needs to go to the Pantry and answer a few questions such as whether they live in the SP School District (as the SPAFP only serves residents of the school district). When asked how much time she spends at the pantry each week, Ballweg replied “20-30 hours per week” plus volunteer time she donates. She now has a part-time assistant 10-15 hours per month who focuses on the Annex Program. The Annex Program provides a “mini pantry” in each school. The SPHS has a separate pantry and Grand Avenue, for example, provides snacks for students. Some exciting events recently were being the recipient of a grant which allowed them to purchase an electric pallet jack which helped to unload TEFAP loads weighing 6000-9000 pounds the last quarter of 2020. The new equipment is greatly appreciated with loads of this nature. Also, through donations and gifts, the pantry was able to purchase a truck. Now they can accept additional TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) products such as eggs, milk, and more and enables the pantry to conduct events such as the “pop-up” distributions. Boxes can be unloaded directly into cars at distributions like these and the school break boxes can easily be delivered to Tower Rock, Merrimac etc. The pantry recently applied for and was awarded a grant from Sauk Prairie Healthcare to provide food to those who cannot get to the pantry. School counselors asked families who would like to take part and in February, the first month of operation, 40 families responded they would like to participate. Due to confidentiality, the school district delivers the food to the families. For March, 43 families are taking part. This is a nine-month project. When asked how we can best support the Food Pantry, Ballweg replied that volunteering is most welcome. There is a sign-up page by date and time that potential volunteers can use. Strict social distancing guidelines, mask wearing etc. are followed at the panty. She also said volunteers can sign up for group projects as well. Guidelines are followed with those as well. Besides food donations, non-food items needed are: toothbrushes, baby wipes and diapers, shampoos and conditioners, toilet paper and paper towels, and laundry and dish detergents. She expressly mentioned Piggly Wiggly, Sauk Prairie Market and the Mixing Bowl as businesses that assist the pantry with food. Ballweg took the time to clarify the two separate organizations that are housed in the same building. She emphasized that the SPAFP and 6:8, Inc. are two separate organizations with separate boards and bylaws. The SPAFP rents their space in the 6:8 building. The pantry and 6:8 share common goals, for example 6:8 reaches out to those who are experiencing food insecurity or other areas of poverty, the pantry provides the food for these families. “We work together very well,” says Ballweg.

At their March 3 virtual Zoom meeting, the Sauk Prairie Optimist Club welcomed guest speaker, Kris Ballweg, director of the Sauk Prairie Area Food Pantry (SPAFP).



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