Tomahawk Food Pantry seeks community’s support as funds fall to emergency level
By Jed Buelow
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor, Sports, Nature Editor
While the Tomahawk Food Pantry is used to giving a hand up to those in need, now the non-profit organization is having to reach out seeking the community’s help as cash on hand to run day-to-day operations has run critically low.
In the 20 plus years Patty Derleth has volunteered at the pantry she has never seen it this bad. From $47,000 to the $6,000 the pantry now has on hand, the pantry spends roughly $2,000 a month buying specific items needed and to support a voucher program that has been cut in half as a result of the lack of cash.
“We were fortunate over the last 20 years to always have money available,” Derleth said of the funding that has since dwindled to as little as enough to support the pantry for just three more months unless something is done to help bolster the pantry’s bank account.
The reasons the pantry surplus has run dry are pretty straight forward. The number of clients relying on the monthly visit to the pantry has doubled in recent years. And the cost of food the pantry purchases on a weekly basis to make sure they are providing clients with specific items continues to rise.
“This is an emergency we have never had to face before,” said pantry volunteer Tom Kelley. “This has become a “community cause” that hasn’t been around in the past.”
Along with reaching out to the community, the pantry also plans to approach businesses, schools and churches seeking financial support. Kelley said it is more a call to awareness – that those donating to other charitable organizations keep the pantry in mind as funds donated go to support a very important cause.
Part of the $2,000 monthly operating expense goes to support the voucher program, which provides clients with money to purchase milk, bread, eggs, cheese and meat to buy from the grocery store to last the entire month. Based on the size of the family, the voucher program has been cut from $30 to $15 with larger families hurt the most as those with eight people or more was cut from $60 to $20, or a two-thirds cut that began this month.
Pantry volunteer Terry Derleth said a big part of the goal is making the community aware of the need after the pantry had been self-sufficient for so many years.
“I think once the community knows about it we will be able to get there,” Terry Derleth said. “We just need to make people aware that the way things are going now we won’t be able to make the whole year.”
If a current lack of funding at the food pantry wasn’t enough, there is also concern the need could be even greater going forward as the federal government announced plans to limit access to food stamps, which could impact in upwards of 70,000 families statewide.
The cut to food stamps provided to low income households is expected to further increase an already growing client list at the pantry. The number of visits to the pantry this year is up 368 compared to the year prior, from 504 to 872, as the number of people relying on the Tomahawk Food Pantry rose from 733 last year to 1115 in 2019.
Volunteers said the pantry serves a wide range of the population in the Tomahawk area community, from single moms to large families and those who rely on a fixed income with little, if any, discretionary money to spare to spend on food at the end each month.
“Food provides a freedom from hunger,” said volunteer Frank Hinterleitner. “If you are hungry, the Tomahawk Food Pantry is here to help,”
The pantry does benefit from a number of large food fundraisers that are held each year. Heritage Chevrolet hosts the Fill the Truck, Fill the Need during the holiday season and the Tomahawk Postal Service collects donations during the Stomp Out Hunger campaign. The Tomahawk Elementary School hosts a food drive during Thanksgiving and the Boy Scouts collect items to donate in April.
Terry Derleth said while those donations are very much appreciated, the pantry might have to look at even more fundraising efforts to help cover costs going forward.
“This isn’t a crisis that can’t be fixed,” she said. “We are fortunate to live in a community that always steps forward to help those in need. We are confident the community will step up to help address the need.”
Hinterleitner said volunteers are currently in the process of creating a website for the Tomahawk Food Pantry where the public will be able to go soon to make cash donations by clicking on a “Donate Now” button at www.tomahawkfoodpantry.org.
As part of the non-profit group’s Freedom from Hunger fundraising campaign, the pantry notes Tomahawk is a small community that has always come together to make sure our friends and neighbors get the help they need. Those who would like to make an immediate donation to help support the pantry can send checks to: Tomahawk Food Pantry, W7994 Somo Dam Rd., Tomahawk Wis. 54487. The Tomahawk Food Pantry is a non-profit 501 (C) (3) and the federal tax exempt number is 46-5758258.