Food pantries face pandemic-driven demand

Economic impact of health crisis is seen by local charities that are giving away more food, including Thanksgiving meals, to help those in need this year

SAUKVILLE COMMUNITY FOOD PANTRY volunteer Fredlyn Viel (left) helped a patron select items at the pantry on Saturday. Area pantries have seen a dramatic increase in demand, especially leading up to the holidays, during the pandemic as people have been laid off or had their employment reduced. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The number of people requesting Thanksgiving meals from local food pantries is up this season due to the economic impact of Covid-19, organizers say.

“The effect is most certainly due to Covid,” Saukville Community Food Pantry Executive Director Mark Gierach said. 

The Saukville pantry expects to give out nearly twice as many food gift boxes this season as last year — 180 compared to 100 other years.

“People have lost jobs or had hours cut and I’m hearing from some of them who are working that they don’t know how much longer they will have jobs as business has slowed down so much,” he said.

Gierach said he expects the same for Christmas.

Members of the Port Washington High School Key Club will distribute the boxes on Saturday, Nov. 21, to people who signed up in October.

The Port Washington Food Pantry expects to distribute about 75 holiday meals for Thanksgiving, about the same as in past years, pantry President Phil Groothausen said.

But overall demand for food from the pantry is definitely up, he said.

“Every week we seem to have two or three new clients come in. It’s the economy from Covid. Most people have lost their jobs, had their hours cut, their unemployment  hasn’t come in. It’s 101 different  reasons,” he said.

The Port Pantry handed out turkeys on Tuesday and will distribute the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal next Tuesday, Nov. 24, Groothausen said.

Volunteers at Family Sharing in Grafton are preparing Thanksgiving meal “kits” for an increasing number of patrons, which currently stands at about 200, Community Outreach Manager Kimberly Bikulcius said.

“The number is pretty much on par with the last few years, but there are a lot of new families,” Bikulcius said.

In 2019, Family Sharing distributed 296 turkeys and Thanksgiving meal kits, she said.

Family Sharing’s meal kit includes either a turkey or chicken “and everything needed for a holiday feast,” she said. “Just because a person has to utilize the pantry doesn’t mean they have to go without a traditional holiday meal.”

Family Sharing will distribute meals from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Veterans Park in Grafton and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22, at Christ Church in Mequon.

All three pantries serve all eligible county residents and will make meals available while maintaining social distancing and without making contact.

Pantries also are looking ahead to Christmas.

The Saukville pantry will distribute Christmas food boxes on Dec. 19 to those who sign up this month, Gierach said. Starbucks will sponsor that distribution.

“Thanksgiving has been a surprise for us with the number of families we have signed up,” he said. “We’ll be able to absorb that many again for Christmas, but if we’d go beyond 200 it would make a big impact on our budget forcing us to make cuts in other places going into the new year.”

Groothausen said the Port pantry will distribute hams for Christmas instead of turkeys. The Port pantry also will distribute gifts to children and seniors for the Christmas holiday.

All pantries continue to accept donations, whether in foodstuffs or in cash. 

For more information on locations, hours and requirements to receive or donate food, contact the pantries directly at:

• Family Sharing — 377-0634;

• Port Washington Food Pantry —284-1148;

• Saukville Community Food Pantry — 689.8591;



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