Impromptu food pantry started six weeks ago now serves 100 families

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Photo supplied

From our news partner Madison365:

When Jimena Maier offered to host a mini-food pantry in her garage less than two months ago, she never thought it would grow to serve more than 100 families.

The first week the pantry was open it served 12 families. By week six it served 102.

“We had a line of vehicles all the way down Tomscot (Trail). You couldn’t see the end of the line of vehicles,” Maier said.

The food pantry is located near Sandburg Elementary School and primarily serves families in that neighborhood, which Maier describes as a resource desert — lacking a community center, and essential pantries for neighbors. Each Wednesday, families are welcome to the pantry that is filled with nonperishable food items, personal essentials and fresh produce. There are no income restrictions or proof of income required for patrons.

Maier is a bilingual resource teacher at Mendota Elementary School and has children who attend Sandburg Elementary School. As schools were shutting down she was concerned that people would no longer have access to needed food and supplies. Nearly 66% of the students at Sandburg Elementary School are economically disadvantaged, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Jimena Maier. Photo supplied.

“We don’t want (families) to have to make a decision about whether they can keep their housing or feed their kids,” Maier said. “So if we can alleviate some of that stress and some of that financial burden, that’s truly what we’re trying to do.”

Each week Maier and a team of 10 volunteers buy $2,000 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables and personal essentials like diapers, feminie products and Kleenex. The team includes Jenna Collins, a 4K teacher at Sandburg, Joanna Whitrock, a social worker at Sandburg, and Sacred Heart of Mary School food service manager Heidi Walters, a Sandburg parent, as the fundraising coordinator.

Maier said as the food pantry patrons continue to grow, she has seen neighbors do their part.

“I mean it’s been just crazy to see the need is growing as people are becoming unemployed, but also the generosity from our community is growing,” Maier said. “Our community has really come together and we’re posting things on social media, so we’ve had neighbors that either drop off money or drop off donations. Our own families are donating.”

The organizers have started a Gofund Me Page to keep up with demand. So far, the food pantry has seen $12,730 worth of monetary donations.

Organizers are also partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank, Door Creek Church, Community Action Coalition, Food for Thought Initiative, Foundry 414 and several other churches to get food donations. 

But Maier said it is still not meeting demand.

From week four to week five of the food pantry the number of patrons more than doubled.

Wisconsin has seen more than 318,000 new unemployment claims filed since the COVID-19 pandemic started in mid March, with a projected 27% unemployment rate, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

And as unemployment rises, Maier suspects the reach of the pantry will continue to rise as well.

Maier said that many of the families that the food pantry is serving are families with varying documentation statuses who are unable to benefit from stimulus checks or unemployment assistance, and often don’t use Wisconsin FoodShare or similar government programs.

Maier said every Tuesday night her garage is so full it can’t even be walked through, and by Wednesday, after patrons have come through, the garage is empty.

But the community food pantry will never turn a family away, Maier said. Organizers hope to keep the pantry going through the end of the school year.

To donate to the Sandburg Community Food Pantry click here or drop off donations at one of these three locations: 3201 Sunbrook Road, 2513 Crest Line Dr. and 2314 Stuart Ct.

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