When you make a donation to Hunger Task Force, do you ever wonder who you are helping? Below are Stories From The Frontline, true stories about clients and how the kindness of others and the support of our community has impacted their life and continues to give us all hope...
Gene, 82 –
For 30 years, Gene worked as a paper worker and security guard. He owned a home, and took pride in earning an honest living. He also volunteered at St. Ben’s Community Meal for many years, giving back and helping out those who were less fortunate. Now, Gene is the one receiving help. He has long been retired and lives off of his Social Security. He doesn’t own his home anymore, but is still able to rent a room. “But after you add everything up, there’s not much left to buy food,” says Gene.
He comes to St. Vincent de Paul meal program each week for a little extra help. He really enjoys the spaghetti and meatballs served, almost as much as he enjoys telling jokes to a table full of his friends. “It’s nice to come here for a good meal. It takes a little bit of the pressure off each week,” he notes. “And someone here finally convinced me to go sign up for FoodShare, so I think that’s going to help a lot, too.”
Martin and Michael, 38 and 63 –
Martin and Michael both live under a Milwaukee south side bridge. Martin has lived there for a year, while Michael has been there for three years. Life gets tough for both of them, especially in the winter. “When it gets really cold, there are spots under the bridge where there is no wind and it’s OK to sleep,” says Martin.
When asked if either of them have any family, they just point to each other. They’ve become friends over the last year, and eat together at St. Vincent de Paul’s meal program about three times a week. “I’m probably not going to be around much longer,” says Michael. “I’m pretty old and busted up, but it’s a comfort to be able to come here to warm up and have a nice meal with Martin. It’s enough for an old man like me and I’m glad there are people here to help.”
Glenn, 58 –
Glenn was injured at work two years ago and currently receives disability benefits. He wishes he could go back to work to earn more money but his injuries are too severe and permanent. He and his 15-year old son live together at home. “He grows so fast and eats so much,” said Glenn. “But the money is never enough to feed us both.” To make ends meet, Glenn visits Central City Churches food pantry once a month.
The food that Glenn and his son receive from Central City makes a huge difference every month. “We can have meals three times a day and keep up with the rent for our apartment,” he said. “It’s a small place, but it’s home…I was worried that my son and I would end up in some roach-infested place, but the food we receive from the pantry helps us keep what we have.”
Timothy, 27 –
Timothy was a dancer for a high-profile dance company. He was performing in Broadway musicals in New York and living his dream before a drug problem brought him back home to Milwaukee. Unemployed and facing the long struggle of rehab, Timothy sought help at Central City Churches food pantry when he could no longer afford food or housing.
Timothy enjoyed the warm, inviting environment of Central City. He loved the jazz that they played during meal service, and the quiet moments of having a cup of coffee and conversation with others in the neighborhood facing similar problems. Timothy eventually landed a job at a local homeless shelter, and with the help of Central City, was able to save enough money to move back to Michigan and his 6-year old daughter.
Frank, 42 –
Frank was a successful engineer, living in a 3-bedroom suburban home in Franklin. He lived there with his wife and daughter. Recently, his company was making cuts and he lost his job. Despite his best efforts, he could not find new employment in the tough economy. His family’s savings were drained within months. He lost his house because he couldn’t make payments, and finally, could no longer afford to even put food on the table. He had to send his wife and daughter to a homeless shelter so they would have a bed and meal each night. He slept in his car. Being separated from his family was devastating for him.
Frank came to Central City Churches for help. The staff helped get him back on his feet, providing his family with emergency food and hot meals throughout the month. He kept searching for work and was finally able to land a new job. Alicia, the pantry coordinator at Central City, noted how grateful Frank was for the extra help. “It’s scary to think how quickly your situation can get bad,” she said. But the pantry food and meals really helped him get by…he just need a little extra push to get him through a bad spot.”
Margaret, 81 –
Margaret lives alone on Milwaukee’s south side. She’s been on her ow n for years, and managed to scrape by on a limited income. Recently, her meager savings ran out in her bank account. She didn’t have any money to pay her bills or rent, much less purchase food. She became so hungry one day she ate cat food. In a desperate situation, she came to UMOS Food Pantry for help.
At UMOS, Margaret was helped by Kevin, a part-time Auxiliary Assistant. When Kevin gave her a full bag of food, he saw Margaret’s eyes well up with tears. “It was like she had won a car,” he noted. “Some of the older people who come to UMOS, they don’t have anything anymore.” Margaret now visits UMOS once a month, and is able to keep her cupboards full with the food she receives. The staff at UMOS also helped Margaret sign up for FoodShare and Stockbox, which stretches her money so she can pay bills and rent.
Veronica, 69 and Sammy, 73 –
Veronica is a Stockbox recipient who learned about FoodShare when she attended Destiny Youth Plaza’s Senior Farmer’s Market Vouchers registration. She was unsure about applying for FoodShare in the past but asked our staff to see if she would benefit. After completing an online application and a phone interview, Veronica found out that she was eligible for $152 a month in FoodShare. She also qualified for medical benefits, and the $100 monthly Medicare premium taken out of her Social Security check would be given back to her.
In July, Sammy walked into his apartment’s community area to find two friends working with our Senior Benefit Specialist to complete FoodShare applications. After a few questions and a little bit of persuasion on behalf of his friends, Sammy decided to complete an application. Sammy arranged an interview the next week and was informed that he would start receiving $85 in FoodShare benefits every month. Sammy was very happy and personally called Hunger Task Force to express his gratitude for the assistance in applying for his new benefit.
Billie, 63 –
Billie has been visiting St. Vincent de Paul’s meal program and pantry for three years. He lives in the neighborhood with his son and grandson, and catches a few hours a week working part-time as a cook. But his work as a cook sometimes doesn’t cut it when it comes to putting food on the table for the three of them, especially his growing grandson. He visits the meal program a couple times a week, and brings food home from the pantry so his son and grandson can make a good meal.
The food and meals help this small family make it through each week, and Billie notes that it is “more than you can ask for” in terms of help. But for Billie, it’s more than just food: “Getting the food is great, but the best part is being with my friends here at St. Vincent,” he says. “Otherwise, I would get lonesome at home when my son and grandson aren’t around….this place brings a smile to my face.”
Gerald, 69 –
Things have been tough for Gerald. He was recently diagnosed with cancer, and has long dealt with heart problems. Medical bills are piling up, but he is determined to not let them get in the way. Gerald keeps active with part-time work cutting grass for a local landscape company, and to stretch his food budget, he enjoys participating in the friendly atmosphere of St. Vincent de Paul’s meal program. He comes weekly for the hot meals, visits with friends and the respite the kind staff and volunteers give from some of life’s troubles.
He is glad for the help, but also carries a unique sense of perspective while visiting St. Vincent’s: “The meals here really help out week to week, but I won’t take food from the pantry. I’m fortunate enough to have some paid work, so I want other families to have that food so they can feed their kids.” Gerald truly personifies that sense of reaching out and giving back that is always present at St. Vincent’s.
“I want to thank whoever is responsible for Stockbox. It is a godsend each month. I am a 74-year old female, and I sure do appreciate all the food in the Stockbox. I especially love the juice. I sure enjoy all the fruits and vegetables. I am able to make meals with the items in the Stockbox. I look forward each month to Stockbox…it is like Christmas each month. When I open it, I try to figure out how I can make different meals from the food. And I usually do. I can’t thank you enough for this.”
A Pantry Manager’s Perspective –
Debby Pizur is the pantry manager at Project Concern, which serves the Cudahy and St. Francis areas. She hears her client’s stories every day when she opens the doors to distribute emergency food. Recently, she met a pregnant high school sophomore whose mother just died; a couple whose unemployment benefits ran out and they needed some help and a kind word; a homeless father who was just looking for a bed for his son to sleep in. These were just the first few people to visit the pantry that particular morning—Project Concern serves over 1,000 people every month.
Pizur notes: “Each person entering the pantry carries a burden, but with an upbeat greeting, a few days’ worth of food and the outreach resources we provide, we hope that we can lighten that burden.” Pizur is privileged to manage Project Concern because of all the ways their volunteer staff can help the clients. “It’s a gift to work here and knowing that in some small way you have helped someone have a better day.”
Claudia, 47 –
Claudia is a single mother of two, and lives in the neighborhood near Bethesda Outreach Church. She lives on a fixed income, and many times, her FoodShare benefits are not enough to get by each month. She’s “just surviving,” and wishes she could provide her kids with full meals instead of just bits and pieces of food that she can afford. Not too long ago, her friend invited her to attend the meal service and pantry at Bethesda. Claudia had always been reluctant to use a pantry, but after the invitation and experience at Bethesda, she realized how much it helped.
Now, she can stretch her family’s food supply to last the entire month, and her and her kids can enjoy hot meals in the company of friends and smiling faces. Her kids love the rousing editions of “Happy Birthday” that the entire dining rooms sings when it is someone’s special day. Claudia notes that a lot of the people who visit Bethesda live in the same neighborhood. “We’re all going through the same thing, but we’re all going through it together…it’s a beautiful thing they do here.”
Betty, 99 –
Betty is 99 years old, and every month, she walks to St. Hyacinth’s Food Pantry from her home on her own. She is very frail, but is determined to make the neighborhood trip that she has been making for years because she needs the food. She lives with her grandson, but he cannot always be around to help. Betty’s spirit has overcome physical weakness and a tough neighborhood as she visits the place where she is welcomed by trusted friends.
The volunteers at St. Hyacinth know Betty well. They provide her with a supply of food each visit, and the on-site nursing staff give her a quick check-up, supply her with basic hygiene products and make sure she is doing OK. They are constantly amazed at her resilience. Beyond providing food and medical assistance, the volunteers and nurses work to connect Betty with other neighbors that visit the pantry so she has help making the walk, or with chores around her home.
Joe, 32 –
Joe is married with two children. He is a seasonal worker and is unemployed for the majority of the winter and spring. Joe’s FoodShare benefits get him food every month, but with two growing kids, “things get pretty tense” at month’s end. He hates the feeling of running out of food a week before they can afford to buy more. He worries for his kids.
To make ends meet, Joe and his family visit St. Hyacinth Pantry each month. They live down the street, and have been visiting the pantry for two years now. Joe is grateful for the help that the St. Hyacinth volunteers provide, but his thankfulness does not stop there. As someone who receives help from the pantry, Joe wants to give back to those who help his family. At the start of the pantry service every week, Joe volunteers his time and helps get things ready to go by stocking the pantry and the hygiene clinic. “It’s the least I can do for what they do for my family. There are a lot of people having a tough time right now but we can all pitch in to make things a little better.”
The Stevenson Family –
The Stevenson family lives on Milwaukee’s north side…Greg and Shelly, and their five young children. They are a working family, making enough to get by, keep bills paid and put food on the table. But this winter, tragedy struck: they lost their home and everything they owned to a house fire. They had never faced homelessness before, much less a financial situation that left no money for food. Their five kids needed to eat.
The Stevenson’s turned to New Life Presbyterian Church Pantry on Palmer Street for help. The pantry provides emergency food to 150 people a week, but also provides clothing and supplies. In fact, pantry coordinator Miss Cynthia personally makes a lot of the clothes that the pantry gives away to clients. To help the Stevenson’s get back on their feet while they arranged for new lodging, the volunteers at New Life Pantry gave them an extra supply of food, and three full bags of clothing. The Stevenson kids were also overjoyed to find out that the bags also included toys.
Gina, 24 –
Gina is diabetic, but she never knew until she started visiting New Life Presbyterian Church Pantry a few months ago. She often wondered why she would get dizzy, and figured it was just because she wasn’t eating enough. She had lost her job, and was relying on New Life for emergency food when she needed it. One day while visiting the pantry, she got dizzy and collapsed. Volunteer nurses from the attached Community-Based Chronic Disease Management Clinic quickly came to her aid, and after some follow-up tests found that Gina was diabetic. Gina now visits the clinic regularly for both food and check-ups.
Over 90% of pantry visitors at New Life Pantry also take advantage of the health care at the clinic, receiving everything from check-ups to medication. Gina wishes that more people knew about the variety of help that people can receive at New Life, because the clinic and pantry staff “just have a way of knowing” if a client looks like they need medical help. “It’s more than just getting food,” she said. “They probably saved my life.”
Barbara, 74 –
Right before Christmas, Hunger Task Force received a call from a 74 year old woman named Barbara asking for help. She told us her Social Security check just barely covered her monthly expenses, and there wasn’t enough food in her cupboards. She couldn’t even make Christmas cookies for her grandchildren, she said, and was losing sleep over her situation. She had never had to ask for help before and began to cry while on the phone.
We discovered that Barbara received Stockbox, a box of free food that she depended on every month from Hunger Task Force. But when we asked whether she received FoodShare, Barbara was reluctant to ask for help signing up. Within minutes of her phone call, our staff at the Coggs Center contacted Barbara and completed a FoodShare ACCESS application over the phone. They helped determine that Barbara was eligible for $200 of FoodShare every month, and also $100 of Medicare reimbursements. She was overjoyed that she would now have $300 more each month for food and expenses.
Steven and Janice, 46 and 44 –
Steven and Janice were former donors to Hunger Task Force, but the married couple had fallen on hard times right before the holiday season. They had both lost their jobs earlier in the fall and were struggling to make ends meet. Steven also required regular dialysis treatments, and steep medical bills left no money for food. They came to Hunger Task Force in a desperate situation.
Hunger Task Force provided them with two emergency boxes of food, a holiday ham, and a $100 gift card to purchase groceries. The emergency boxes gave Steven and Janice a safety net of food for the week, and they used the grocery cards to make a holiday meal for their family. Hunger Task Force also directed the couple to the Coggs Center to apply for FoodShare benefits while they got back on their feet financially. They were overwhelmed by the help they were able to receive. “We never thought we would go from being donors to recipients of charity,” said Steven. “Thank you for helping us get through this.”
Samantha, 22 –
Every week at Open Door Café in downtown Milwaukee, women from the adjoining homeless shelter meet for the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club. A group of about 15 women regularly gather to eat a breakfast of juice, bagels and yogurt, enjoy fellowship and share each other’s company.
A young woman named Samantha had just arrived at the shelter in December. Her 22nd birthday was the day before Christmas. That week, Hunger Task Force delivered special foods to the shelter and meal program for the holidays, including omelets for breakfast. A huge crowd of 35 women were in attendance on that Tuesday morning before Christmas, including Samantha. She was shy and scared to be in her position, but the women made her feel welcome and made the usual Breakfast Club meeting into a birthday party in her honor. It is a Breakfast Club Tradition to draw names for small gifts after the meal, and many of the women gave their gifts to Samantha as birthday presents. It was the biggest birthday party she had ever had, and she was grateful for the warm food and warmer friendship of the women at the shelter.
Raymond, 71 –
Raymond is a 71 year old man who visits the Open Door Café meal program weekly. Raymond holds a law degree, but severe health issues prevented him from maintaining a career. With no immediate family to help him during tough stretches of his later life, Raymond experienced homelessness, and would at times go for a week or longer without eating. But the meal program offered at Open Door Café and the food provided at local pantries through Hunger Task Force help him get by day to day.
Although Raymond has experienced his own troubles in life, and his career as an attorney was cut short, he makes the best out of his situation and tries to assist those around him at Open Door. Raymond helps those visiting the meal program with legal advice, and shares his own life experiences with those who are going through similar tough times. He is grateful for the meal programs that help him every day, and he gives back in the only way he can: as an “advocate for the poor” at Open Door Café.
A Note from Nicolle, 32 –
“I’ve been coming to the Robles Center for help since my son was born. He’s 10 years old now. I’m a single mom and have been through many tough situations over this time. I’ve had some bad experiences trying to apply for food stamps here in the past, but since the Robles Self Service Center opened up last year, the service has been exceptional. I can come in and get food stamp benefits right away and can get money for groceries. I don’t have to explain to my son anymore why we have to go the food pantry all the time. The people from Hunger Task Force at Robles are always there to greet me with a smile and help me out. This happens every time I go there now. They are a breath of fresh air and it’s little things like that that can change your whole outlook. I appreciate their help so much.”
Paul, 60 –
Paul is a veteran, worked as a carpenter in the military and has long supported himself with his diverse, handy skills. But as the economy declined, he lost his work as a casual laborer, and his military benefits were not enough to get by. Now, he lives in his car and walks the homeless meal route in Milwaukee. He enjoys the exercise and tranquility of walking, but often, he has to skip lunch because walking to all the meal programs takes too much time.
One of Paul’s frequent stops for dinner and a shower is at St. Ben’s Community Meal. He enjoys the “warm and sincere” environment, and has come to know many of the friars very well. Despite his struggles, Paul has a unique and selfless perspective on his own situation: he wants to give the Capuchins more of his time and skills to support their ministry and facility. He wants to give back to those who have helped him. For instance, when a bathroom at St. Ben’s was vandalized, Paul offered to fix it up and did a great job. He’s also been hired by St. Ben’s to do some light work and painting around the facility. Paul soon hopes to rent his own room with money from his continuing work as a handyman and service-related disability benefits.
Ron and Kenny, 55 and 58 –
Ron and Kenny are regular visitors to Ebenezer Lutheran Church Pantry. They rely on the emergency food from the pantry and the weekly meals offered at the adjoining meal program. They are both also confined to wheelchairs, and face great daily struggles. Ron and his wife Vicky used to live in a tent, but neighborhood violence and gunshots forced them from their tent into true homelessness right before the winter. Kenny’s arms are not strong enough to wheel himself, so he travels everywhere in his wheelchair backwards, using his feet to push himself along. Kenny even tried to make it to Ebenezer Pantry on the day of the 2011 blizzard.
But volunteers from Ebenezer Pantry have helped Ron and Kenny in ways beyond providing weekly warm meals and bags of emergency food. They found Ron and Vicky a very affordable room to stay in, and helped them move their five bags of items—everything they owned—into their new place while they make future arrangements. When weather is bad, the volunteers help Kenny get to the neighborhood pantry safely when they see him coming down the street. The pantry has also been able to provide multiple new wheelchairs from the church to both Ron and Kenny when theirs break or need replacing.
Want to make a difference? Click here to make a donation today!