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‘People are reliant on us,’ food pantry adapts to continue serving community

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Food pantries in our area are still open despite a stay at home order from the governor, but they're facing new challenges to serve people while preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul's food pantry in Madison are serving a surge of people in the past week as businesses close, leaving many out of work.

"We did 544 households. Normally at this time of year we do maybe about 400 households in a week," said Ernie Stetenfeld, CEO and executive director of the Madison council of St. Vincent de Paul.

The organization has started doing curbside pick up of pre-packed boxes, to limit contact for those picking up and those volunteering to help.

"We've moved back to an older model of packing boxes and bags of food and getting them out to people more quickly, in no small part because we have to sort of minimize how many people are working at it, volunteers and staff, but also because there's greater demand," Stetenfeld told 27 News.

Meanwhile, St. Vinny's seven thrift stores in Dane County closed down, along with other retail stores in the state. The organization anticipates losing $600,000 in revenue in three weeks time. That's money that would normally be going to the food pantry and other services.

Still, the organization is focusing on what they can control right now, making sure the pantry is stocked and keeping the challenge of the coronavirus crisis in perspective.

"As tough as this is on everybody, it's probably tougher on a whole lot of people who are coping with poverty," he said.

The pantry is not accepting food donations right now, to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But if you can spare some money, you can donate on the St. Vincent de Paul Madison district website.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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