Wisconsinites feed their neighbors during Coronavirus shutdown
Joel Crandall, warehouse lead for Feed My People Food Bank, loads food boxes along with executive director Emily Moore at the agency’s Eau Claire headquarters. Feed My People is among many local organizations, businesses and people helping people in need obtain food during this time of coronavirus concerns. ( Photo provided)

From a Balsam Lake cafe owner, to a Menominee co-op and plenty of others in between, people are stepping up to feed one another

When Angela Chandler first heard that Wisconsin’s schools would be closed because of coronavirus concerns, her thoughts about how to help returned to last summer. 

A destructive tornado ripped through Balsam Lake in July, causing significant damage to the Polk County village of Balsam Lake Chandler has called home for the past two years. To help community members struggling to rebuild homes and lives, Chandler put on a spaghetti dinner at the Balsam Lake Cafe she had opened just two months earlier. 

The dinner in the community of about 1,000 wasn’t particularly well attended, she said. But those who did attend were especially grateful, she said. 

So when the Unity school district her 16-year-old son attends announced its closure because of coronavirus concerns, Chandler decided to help again. She announced this weekend she is offering local children free breakfast and lunch each day.   

So far few people have taken part, Chandler said, in part because she closed her restaurant’s dine-in options because of the coronavirus. Like all restaurants across the state, she is now only able to offer drive-through and delivery. 

Business began to pick up Monday, she said, and she believes more people will eat free meals as coronavirus worries drag on. 

“A lot of people here live paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “If I can help people by providing them free food, that is what I want to do.”

Feed My People Food Bank staff are well aware of the struggles many people face obtaining enough food. In fact, filling that need has been the Eau Claire-based agency’s mission for the past 38 years. Now, as coronavirus concerns continue to grow, the food bank is stepping up its effort to provide food to those who need it. 

“We know that many students do not have access to regular meals at home,” Feed My People assistant director Suzanne Becker said. “And we know that with coronavirus, we need to take it beyond what we were already doing.”

The agency is working with the Eau Claire school district to provide students with two meals each week, distributed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in an effort to ensure students have enough food while they are at home in the wake of Gov. Tony Evers’ decision last week to close schools statewide.

The program begins on Thursday, will be discontinued next week for spring break, and will resume the following Tuesday, Becker said. Previously, those meals, intended for students in need of food at home, have been distributed on Fridays so children had food during weekends.

The agency — which distributes food through various partners at more than 200 outlets in 14 counties — also is expanding its pop-up pantry, a mobile food pantry that periodically offers food to families at various locations. 

The pantry was made a regular monthly occurrence at the start of this school year and will be offered much more frequently as coronavirus concerns keep students from school, Becker said Tuesday. Two pop-up pantries will occur this week, on Wednesday and Friday. 

“There is a lot of uncertainty for everyone right now,” Becker said, “so if we can help them out with the food piece of this, that is what we want to do until we get through this.” 

Crystal Halvorson has heard stories of people in need of food, especially of the healthy, nutritious sort. So the owner of Menomonie Market Food Co-op decided to try to help. She has started accepting donations at her store in downtown Menomonie to purchase food for those in need. Customers at her store also can now order food online to avoid contracting coronavirus.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Halvorson said. 

It isn’t just larger efforts that are helping people get through these times that are prompting so many worries. During a recent shopping trip, Lauren Lierman and her husband decided against buying her beloved zebra cake rolls treats. 

On Friday Lierman, a teacher at the Altoona school district intermediate school, jokingly lamented that decision to her students as they prepared for school to be closed for at least the next two weeks.

That evening Lierman received a message from one of her student’s parents that they had purchased the snacks for her and wanted to drop them off at her house. 

“They told me that if this is how they could support teachers, they are all in,” Lierman said. “It was so touching!”