OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — Everyone is struggling more to make ends meet before the holidays.
Whether it's inflation, unplanned family emergencies or the federal government scaling back COVID-relief benefits—more people are signing up to use food pantries to feed their families.
People working at these pantries say they're here to help and families shouldn't be ashamed to ask for help, but they also want to add, there are ways to give back—whether you'd like to donate money, time or food to ensure everyone gets through the holidays.
After noticeably paying more at the grocery store in the last year and hearing from friends, families and viewers about the current state of the economy, I decided to learn more about what resources are available to help people struggling to make it.
It's no secret! Everyone is struggling, and inflation is a big factor.
"This year alone, a 100% up in new registrants. Those are brand new folks who have never used our services before, because of the things we're talking about—inflation being high, the cost of everything being high. Food insecurity is just something being impacted right now, and folks are struggling," said Oshkosh Area Community Pantry Executive Director Ryan Rasmussen.
I asked Rasmussen, "What's typically the reaction from people when they come in here and shop for the first time?"
He said, "My favorite part is when we have that brand new guest, and they walk in just like we did, and they're like, "Oh my gosh! You're saying I can have this, this and this..., and we said, "absolutely.""
Rasmussen says the Oshkosh Area Community offers a different experience than most pantries, because they let people shop for items they want with a limit, instead of just organizing random boxes of food for people to take home and potentially not use.
Rasmussen says the pantry is kicking off its winter campaign Sparking Hope by encouraging people to donate money, food or time by volunteering. He says it's also important to remind people the pantry is available if they need help.
"We've just seen a dramatic increase in the amount of folks who have had to utilize our services," Rasmussen said.
Shemise Jackson is one of those shoppers, but she also gives back by volunteering. Jackson says she does a little bit of everything at the pantry—from stocking store shelves, helping people check out of the pantry with their groceries, offering relief for managers and even picking up groceries for her disabled neighbor.
"I love shopping here, because they give you the freedom to walk around and choose what you want," Jackson said.
I asked Jackson, "What's it like to really volunteer for your neighbors?"
"For my neighbors, I have a vet neighbor. He lost his leg. I watched him going from walking to losing his leg. He's a vet. He loves the fact that I can grab his card and come and shop for the both of us, and help him with the groceries inside. They love that I help, and it's a passion for me to help those who are in need," Jackson said.
Jackson says the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry is a great resource for everyone struggling to make ends meet.
"It's just gotten so bad. Captain Crunch is my favorite cereal. It's now $6. So, I was lucky enough to get a box of Captain Crunch two weeks ago, so I'm excited. It's inflation. Things are going up tremendously, and they're needing more help," Jackson said.
Shoppers like Fronberry agree with Rasmussen and says most pantries put together boxes of food for people to take, but since she has specific allergies, the pantry in Oshkosh gives her more freedom to shop for items she can eat that won't make her sick. She says the added bonus is that the food is always great!
"It's been absolutely wonderful. It really helps me make ends meet. I really couldn't do it without this place. I really love how you can pick your own food. I have to avoid gluten. It's just nice, because they don't make you take certain things," Fronberry said.
Jackson says she appreciates all the help the food pantry offers and encourages others to donate where they can—whether it's holding a food drive at work, volunteering a few hours a week or simply writing a check to ensure every family has food on the table during the holidays.
"It's an amazing feeling to know that God can give me the strength to use my limbs to help those who are in need. So, yes. It is very satisfying,' Jackson said.