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Community food shelf gears up for the holiday season

November 13, 2021

Award-winning journalism

This story won first place in public affairs reporting in the 2021 Collegiate Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation. Read more

The holiday season is on its way, and as December approaches, the River Falls Community Food Pantry, which has already been experiencing record numbers of visitors this year, is expecting even more people.

Candice Anderson, Executive Director for the food pantry, said, “We’re seeing record numbers of new families coming in,” and “we’re seeing about 300 to 350 [monthly] visits right now.” 

Anderson has not seen this level of demand in the eight years she has been working at the pantry. “We used to kind of be able to figure out [if] the beginning of the month might be busier than the middle or end,” she said. “Right now, it’s all month. It’s pretty much always busy.”

Anderson also said that the food pantry tends to be busier during the holiday season, and especially around Christmas. 

When it comes to why this is, she said, “Everyone has a different story….[Many] think, if I don’t have to buy groceries this week…I can put some things in my kid’s stocking this year. That’s what we’re there for, to help you make sure your kids are fed and happy at the same time.”

As part of the pantry’s COVID-19 protocols, visitors fill out a shopping list and volunteers will collect the food and distribute it out via curbside delivery. After signing up, people are able to visit twice a month to pick up food. Right now, the pantry has between 1,800 and 2,000 households signed up. 

The pantry also has racks and coolers outside filled with miscellaneous items; during the pantry’s operating hours, visitors can come once a week to pick out what they need, whether they have signed up or not.

Anderson said this year’s demand has been higher than that of 2020. 

“I think some of it is unemployment benefits ending. Some people did lose their jobs, had family members that were sick…and people moved in together,” she said as to why she thinks this is. “Once everything came together is when our pantry started seeing more visits.”

When asked what means of support would currently be most helpful, Anderson said, “Donations are great; volunteering is super helpful, just because we are getting busier. Donations and volunteering are probable neck-and-neck for [our] biggest need.

“We're trying to reach out again to like university students and other people that may not know that it was an option to come get food from the food pantry,” Anderson said. 

The food pantry moved into a larger facility at the end of 2020, which has allowed them to expand their services and reach new areas; they used to serve just River Falls, but now, anyone who lived in Pierce County or St. Croix County is welcome.

“You’re here, you’re part of the community. You can come get food from us,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to be a permanent River Falls resident to get help.

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