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The Rhinelander Area Food Pantry meets increased food insecurity needs over the summer

Fresh produce at the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry
Erin Gottsacker
Fresh produce at the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry

Over the summer, rates of food insecurity surge, but the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry is here to meet that need.

It is a resource available for anyone in Oneida County, regardless of income.

They offer three shopping days a week, online ordering for customers, home deliveries for homebound clients, and even have a garden of their own fresh homegrown produce.

Since the end of pandemic-era support programs, pantries have noted increased demand.

For the past 50 years, ensuring food security has been the work of community organizations and even many churches.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Courtney Smith, Executive Director of the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry, says that their whole system changed.

“It was this moment of pause, and ‘how do we provide services to folks?’ and, you know, ‘what does access look like?’ And we need to stop, you know, putting this idea of deserving poor, right? Food insecurity isn't about deserving poor. It's really about creating a thriving community and helping to make sure that people have what they need,” explained Smith.

Pandemic aid really benefited the pantry.

They had an abundance of food, more supplies than Smith says they’ve ever had before, and that was because the government bought and provided free restaurant food that wasn’t being purchased by the general public.

Individual households also received stimulus checks, which helped meet food security needs.

But things have changed now.

“We dropped down to like 500 households, 525 households during COVID. We serve almost 800 now. So that has all moved away. So we've seen an increased need, and all of that surplus food is gone,” said Smith.

She believes that the pantry will be able to adjust, as they did through the beginning of the pandemic.

She said that she was recently presenting at a workplace to around 50 people and a gentleman raised his hand to share his story.

“He said, I just want to let you know, I came to the food pantry for assistance with my son, you treated us with respect. And the help that we received really got me on my feet. I don't need that help anymore. I've got a job. We've got stable housing, it really helped us to turn our lives around. And I'm so proud of him because not everybody wants to share that kind of information, especially amongst their peers or co-workers,” she said.

According to the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry, 12% of children and youth in Oneida County are food insecure and rely on school breakfasts and lunches.

Over the summer, those children don’t have access to free or reduced price meals at their schools.

The Rhinelander Area Food Pantry's free Hodag Food Wagon Summer Program will begin July 11th at the Rhinelander District Library on Thursdays from 4pm to 6pm.

It offers a weekly bag of food to youth, without registration or an income eligibility requirement.

“Using the food pantry and using the food pantry services, it's not a handout, it's not a hand up. It's just a smart economic tool. You know, we really encourage folks to come and shop at the pantry. We have amazing produce, we have meat, we have dairy, and all kinds of good stuff to go along with those pantry staple items,” said Smith.

She said that by using pantry services, a household of one to three people can save $400 a month.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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