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Food pantry sees 2,000 new families since start of pandemic

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MADISON (WKOW) -- While the line Thursday outside The River Food Pantry was several cars deep, volunteers noted it at least wasn't all the way out into the street.

The River's executive director, Rhonda Adams, said long lines had become a common sight at the north side food pantry.

"Middle class families," Adams said. "Not just low-income families but middle class families that find themselves in this position with the pandemic that they've lost their job, they're helping to teach their kids and be online with them with Zoom but yet they're struggling with food insecurity."

Adams said the pantry served 87 first-time families last week. The week before that, she said they saw another 87 first-time faces. Nearly nine months into the pandemic, Adams said the River had seen more than 2,000 first-time clients.

"Families coming from all different types of backgrounds and all different types of reasons," Adams said.

Adams said one of the most difficult sights is seeing people who once were volunteering at pantries now finding themselves in the line receiving food.

"We've seen families who come to us, that tell us 'we've never been in a food pantry line before and we've been the ones volunteering in the past, we've been the ones donating in the past,'" Adams said.

One woman in the line, who declined to give her name, said she had been coming to the pantry often. She said she wanted to keep her house but could not afford both food and property taxes.

"They feel like family to me and it means a lot that we have something like this in Dane County to help offset the cost of living," she said.

The woman added it was her goal to eventually reverse roles and one day be able to donate to the pantry.

While the Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry does not see as much traffic as The River, director Mark Thompson said it has seen a 100% increase in new clients this year.

With increased demand comes a greater need for help. Adams said the pantry was in need of more volunteers, specifically people who can help distribute food in the lines, to prepare meals, and to deliver them for children during the week.

She also directed her attention at the state and federal lawmakers who have the power to do even more.

"Our politicians can do something in the way of more food and also just money to help these folks out," Adams said.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the pantry can fill out an application here.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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