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Jefferson Award winner, March 2020: Shannon Howley

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BARABOO (WKOW)-- In the middle of unprecedented times in our world, we've seen so many people helping others.

Shannon Howley has a passion for feeding people and that need became even more dire, when the world seemingly came to a halt.

"We're here to serve, not judge. Everyone has a story, even if you don't know it," says Shannon.

94-year-old Billie Avery has been shopping at Shannon's food pantry in Baraboo for three years.

"I never thought I'd need help in my life," says Billie.

But the pantry became her lifeline.

"They came along right at the right time, because I had bills to pay and I didn't have the money to pay them. So when they paid for my groceries I paid for my bills."

Billie is one of hundreds of people served at the pantry every month.

"I've had people tell me that they're choosing between buying food or buying medicine," says Shannon.

She founded the pantry in 2016, inspired by Jon Bon Jovi's non-profit, JBJ Soul Kitchen.

"One year for my birthday I decided I was going to raise money and go out and see how this restaurant ran and check it out. So we did that. It was amazing and I came home from that and knew I needed to do something."

She started the Bridge Point Pantry through her church, serving 62 families. But there were some bumps in the road.

"We were facing some financial difficulties and how do we keep this going and what does this look like," says Shannon. "Through multiple conversations, we got a new building, bigger space, more cost effective."

In 2018, they became independent and got a new name... Beyond Blessed Pantry.

"Phenomenal support and phenomenal volunteers who helped not only with the move, but help us keep everything going on a weekly basis."

Now, they serve 300 households a month, with doors open to all, every Wednesday.

"We serve Sauk, Columbia, Adams, Juneau and we received a call from Marquette County."

But serving that many, takes a lot of work and a lot of help from about 50 volunteers.

"Going to Walmart to pick up food that they cannot distribute. We also go to Aldi here in town and we've also picked up from Maurer's in Wisconsin Dells as well," says Shannon. "The majority of our food comes through Second Harvest."

"She works hard at it and her children help, too," says Billie "She's got lovely children."

Shannon's four children never miss a pantry, where she's taught them the value of giving back.

"It's easy to get caught up in what we don't have or what we think we need," says Shannon. "When the reality is what we need is food and shelter and we've lost some of that. So, to teach, 'If you're the person in that line, how do you want to be treated? How do you want to be looked at?' has been big for me."

And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the pantry was still there to help.

"It's just my passion and it just makes me happy to see that we're making some difference for somebody."

Shannon says they've been seeing record numbers of people needing help during the pandemic. So, they are open from 4:30-6:30 p.m. every Wednesday for a drive through service, to follow social distancing guidelines. The pantry is located at 1515 Walnut Street in Baraboo.

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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