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'We depend on events': Spaghetti dinner in Portage to benefit River Haven
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'We depend on events': Spaghetti dinner in Portage to benefit River Haven


It takes 20 boxes of spaghetti noodles and 40 pounds of spaghetti sauce to feed the people who want to help the River Haven homeless shelter.

Portage Presbyterian Church for the second straight year will host a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the local shelter from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

It fed 136 people and raised more than $1,000 last year and church leaders have stocked up for a similar turnout. The menu also includes tossed salad, bread, homemade desserts and beverages.

“We want to support and encourage River Haven to keep doing what they’re doing,” the Rev. Dave Hankins said of an event for which parishioners donated all of the pasta and the Portage Pizza Hut donated the sauce.

River Haven Executive Director Raquel Schwanbeck and her assistant, Pete Bartaczewicz, will provide updates on shelter services and its financial situation for dinner attendees as River Haven hopes to raise enough money in 2020 to complete bathroom renovations that will cost $14,000.

River Haven’s upstairs shower cannot be used because it leaks into the ceiling of the downstairs bedroom and the facility also wants to make its downstairs bathroom handicapped accessible.

“We depend on events,” Bartaczewicz said of shelter expenses that amounted to about $100,000 in 2019. “We try to use a low-cost or no-cost approach whenever we can and rely on support from the community.”

Schwanbeck said River Haven received $94,000 in donations and grants in 2019 and serviced 158 people at the shelters. The family shelter, located on East Pleasant Street, and the men’s shelter, located nearby, have for several months operated at full capacity with extensive waiting lists. The family shelter regularly holds 15 people while the men’s holds another 10.

Leaders said River Haven has about a 50 percent success rate for finding people homes and placed 37 families into homes in 2019. “We just had a guy stay here for a month,” Bartaczewicz used as an example Monday. “We found him an apartment and we move him out of the shelter (on Tuesday).”

Bartaczewicz said River Haven, for the work it does, has formed good partnerships in the community including Renewal Unlimited, which helps with home placement, and the Salvation Army, which provides families with some supplies. Verlo Mattress of Portage donates mattresses to people leaving the shelters and Sleep in Heavenly Peace of Portage provides beds and bedding.

“A lot of people who stay at the shelter have nothing and need the things to make their situation livable for them: that includes soap, food, the grills, toasters,” Bartaczewicz said.

The maximum stay at River Haven is 89 days as staff works with the sheltered to address various dependencies including daycare and jobs with odd hours.

“We consider ourselves lifestyle navigators,” Bartaczewicz said. “We have people looking for jobs and so we help them and encourage them with that.”

River Haven reassesses how things are going for the sheltered at 30 days, which becomes especially important if staff thnks that an occupant isn’t quite motivated enough to find work or permanent housing or both.

“We don’t want to be enablers,” Bartaczewicz said. “Some occupants will get more serious after 30 days, some don’t.”

Addiction is a very difficult hurdle for people to clear, which is why they must overcome their addictions before they’re considered for the shelter, Schwanbeck and Bartaczewicz said. The shelter sometimes refers potential shelter occupants to treatment centers in Milwaukee and Rockford, Illinois, and works with the Columbia County drug court.

“River Haven provides so many resources in addition to housing,” Hankins said of why the church wants to support the organization. “It’s evolved so much through the years.”

In addition to the spaghetti dinner, River Haven will hold a Bowl-a-Thon fundraiser with three bowling sessions beginning at 10:30 a.m. April 4 at J.J. Fireball Lanes in Portage. The cost of the event is $15 per person.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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