UW-Extension Iron County partners with the Iron County Human Services, Iron County Maintenance Department, and Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank to fill a gap in emergency food needs for residents who face food insecurity and hunger. This innovative program was a pilot for Second Harvest to more effectively address access to nutritious food in rural areas. In addition, this is unique way for UW-Extension to participate in another multidisciplinary approach to addressing community need. Each UW-Extension program area offers contributions in the planning, promoting, and implementation of this program. This is a great way to offer direct service to people in need as well as promote and define UW-Extension’s role in the community. We have the privilege of serving adults and senior citizens at the Mobile Food Pantry who may not otherwise be connected to UW-Extension through other programs.
The Mobile Food Pantry functions as a drive-through service offering nutritious food to anyone who self-identifies as having need. In discussion with regional food pantries, it was determined that residents could benefit from additional emergency food services. Currently, the program functions in Hurley on the last Monday of the month. At our February pantry we served more families and individuals than ever before with over 340 individuals served. This helps hungry people and supports the work of our regional pantries by offering another supplemental food service in these challenging times. Second Harvest is receptive to guidance from the Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program to choose the most nutritious food available to distribute through this pantry. Our mobile pantry has moved from the pilot phase to a more permanent program status with expansion to Mercer on the horizon.
Although it is difficult to call this a success because of the seriousness of hunger in the community, we are grateful to be taking action steps to alleviate the pressure hunger and food insecurity place on Iron County residents. In addition to the food, UWEX staff creates an atmosphere of caring. Because we are out there in the cold and because we are smiling and hopeful, participants have expressed sincere appreciation and support. One participant brought hot coffee on the coldest pantry of the year so far. Another resident brought cookies. An elderly woman got out of her car to give a hug of gratitude for the positive and funny signs we post along the road where people wait for their food. Another participant called our office to offer sincere gratitude and appreciation. People are sharing their gratitude with agency staff who partner with UWEX and promote the pantry to these clients. We continue to receive new applications on a daily basis between markets as well as new participants who sign up at the pantry, another convenient aspect of the service.
UWEX staff is committed to building a healthier community where all residents have access to healthy food and physical activity. We acknowledge food pantry participants as valued members of Iron County. The Mobile Food Pantry continues to grow as residents learn of the program. We are working on many fronts to reduce hunger and food insecurity in Iron County. This program is just one example of how our UWEX Iron County multidisciplinary approach to community building uses our professional skills to excel at assessment, planning, and implementation of programs that best serve people in need. Contact our office if you would like more information on the Mobile Food Pantry, how to participate or how to promote this service to people you know that may need it.
– WNEP Coordinator, UW-Extension Iron County