There are a lot of people in Dodge County who need help. Whether they’re dealing with job loss, divorce, illness or release from incarceration, they may not have any idea where their next meal is coming from or how they’re going to pay for it.
That’s where the Dodge County Food Pantry finds its purpose, and how people in need are able to survive, no matter what or how adversity has struck them.
What became the Dodge County Food Pantry started at First Lutheran Church and was operated largely by volunteers Leo and Bonnie Halverson.
“They ran it there until they ran out of space,” said current organizer Coletta Cody. “They later rented space from St. Vincent de Paul (on South Spring Street). Then St. Vincent de Paul took it over.”
It was moved to the new St. Vincent de Paul building — in the back of the thrift store at 125 Dodge Drive — in June 2014.
Cody has been active with the pantry for the past four years. She is part of a dedicated team of mostly senior citizen volunteers.
“I was involved a little more than a year at the downtown location,” she said. “We were in the basement, and when someone came to pick up a box of food, it was sent up on an elevator and we never met the recipients.”
At the new location, everything is on one level and the packages of goods are handed directly to the recipients.
Although headquartered at a charity linked to the Catholic Church, it is open to all.
“It’s entirely non-denominational — just like the thrift store. Our mission is to serve the needy,” Cody said. “Even though we serve the whole county, probably 75 percent of our users are from Beaver Dam.”
Clients are screened over the phone, with volunteers gathering such information as whether they receive WIC (Women, Infants and Children) benefits and whether they visit other food pantries.
“If all of those answers tend to be no, the next question is ‘What is your situation now that you’re in need of food?’ Most of them are more than willing to share their story,” Cody said.
Food is packed based on the number of individuals and their ages.
“We fill a box for them and it’s up on the counter. All I have to do is get some meat out of the freezer, they can pick from a few extra items they might like and they’re on their way,” Cody said.
Each Dodge County Food Pantry box contains the ingredients for approximately 12 meals and generally includes cereal, spaghetti and sauce, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, canned soup, a pound of frozen ground beef with a meal kit, hot dogs, a can of tuna or canned chicken, perhaps some day-old bakery and pizza.
“Help wanted” postings are displayed near the entry for those who might be seeking employment or other opportunities such as abuse shelter or free health services.
“We’re here to give them some help,” Cody said. “Clients can only come one time per calendar month. We give them enough food for roughly 12 meals. They have to have some other way to get the rest of the food they need.”
The food available depends on what’s donated, and what can be purchased with donated funds. Although people tend to be more generous during the holidays, things tend to even out.
“It kind of balances out,” Cody said. “We get about $30,000 in food and I spend about $40,000 — about half of that for meat. We also get meat donations of turkeys, hams and meat donated from the Dodge County Fair Meat Animal Sale.”
The need is great, although there are certainly some abuses.
“We’ve caught a couple people in the act who are claiming to have children that someone else is claiming to support,” Cody said. “We put the kibosh on it and that usually ends the situation. You won’t catch all of them, but I think the number of abusers is small.”
The charity serves approximately 250 households (averaging 425 adults and 275 children) every month. Cody estimates that 60 boxes of those 250 (about 25 percent) help seniors on Social Security or disability.
“We just need to do what we can, and it really does make a world of difference,” Cody said.