OREGON (WKOW) — Oregon’s Wayne Bisek knows what it means to go hungry.
He’s spent more than two decades making sure no families feel that pain.
"We didn’t have money, we didn’t have food on the table all the time."
Wayne grew up in poverty.
"At 9 years old, the grocery store owner brought two bags of groceries to my house, the day before Christmas and said, ‘Merry Christmas,’ handed me the grocery bags and left."
His family got a lot of help from their small Wisconsin community.
"I said, ‘Someday I’m gonna return the favor."
That’s exactly what he’s dedicated his life to. 22 years ago, Wayne started raising money to feed the hungry and his organization Buckets for Hunger was born.
"We try to raise money by combining my love of sports with my passion to feed hungry people."
He got help from some big names, right away.
"I ended up calling people out of the clear blue, Jerry Kramer, Jim Taylor, John Brockington, Michael Finley."
Famous athletes came to fundraisers, celebrity basketball games and signed memorabilia to be auctioned off.
"Bart Starr is one of the nicest people you will ever meet," says Wayne. "We’ve had Kareem Abdul Jabbar here."
Now, Wayne has a room filled with priceless autographed treasures collected over the years, like a football signed by 57 Heisman Trophy winners and a Green Bay Packers leather jacket signed by 27 Packers players.
All of it will be auctioned off. The money goes directly to local food pantries.
"We know we’re not going to end hunger, but we’re trying to do as much as possible and help as many people as we can by giving them a decent meal."
Buckets for Hunger also partners with dozens of pantries, for a challenge every year.
"If you write your check out to a Madison food pantry, give it to Buckets for Hunger, we’ll turn around and give it back to the food pantry with matching dollars, up until you’ve gotten $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 of Buckets money in addition to what other folks have given to the pantry."
Kathy Rossing runs the Lone Rock Community Food Pantry.
"Buckets for Hunger has made it possible for us to reach everybody that needs to be reached in our community and to cover our expenses. Without them, we truly wouldn’t be able to be in existence," she says.
"Over 22 years we have paid out over $2.25 million, that’s about 14-15 million pounds of food," says Wayne.
It’s an incredible reach, made possible by one man.
"He has been an inspiration and an outlet for me and my family," says Buckets board member Paul Lynde.
"They get a little bit of hope, a little bit of inspiration and a little bit of faith in humanity and you can’t put that in words," says Wayne.
Buckets for Hunger will have its next big fundraiser in October in Madison.