MARINETTE (NBC 26) — Helping neighbors in need - that’s the mission of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and food pantry of Marinette. All of the proceeds from the store go toward helping to provide community members with any basic essentials they might need, from clean clothes to free meals to get through the week.
“We run a multitude of different programs from mattresses for those in need to clothing and hygiene drives, anything and everything we can do to help our neighbors in need we try to do here,” said executive director Ashley Berken.
The non-profit’s food pantry is the largest in the area, serving Marinette and Menominee county. The pantry distributes food once a week to those in need and has distributed 125,000 pounds of food in the past year.
“We try to create meals out of ingredients so that our community members can help themselves at home," Berken said. "If we do find out that they do not have a kitchen or the means to cook we do have options for canned goods and meals that do not require a heat source or even a microwave.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Berken says there has been a growing number of new visitors to the pantry who are facing food insecurity.
“We’ve seen a lot of first time visitors to our food pantry who have never had to seek out resources before, who are not on Food Share, who do not qualify, but due to the large cost of groceries currently they need help,” Berken said.
"When they fill out their intake form, it's a real basic form but we do ask their employer and the majority of them are employed they just simply can't afford the groceries anymore," said assistant store manager Kathy Noll.
Over the past several months, the need for the pantry has continued to grow. Berken says that while the food pantry would normally receive just under 200 visitors per month, since October that number has grown to just under 500 visitors per month.
Due to food inflation, keeping the pantry stocked has become more difficult with the rising number of visitors. Berken says businesses and organizations that would normally donate large quantities to the pantry haven’t been able to do so. For example, while the pantry normally receives free dairy donations form local non-profits, the donations have recently been cut off due to rising costs which Berken estimates is costing the pantry about $10,000 a year.
She says the pantry is in need of donations and volunteers now more than ever and is asking for the community’s support.
“We also have had an enormous decline in in-kind donations," Berken said. "Our fellow businesses are struggling and so they don’t have the means to donate the large quantities of milk and yogurt that we need so that forces us to go back into the community to find those resources."
To become a volunteer with the food pantry or make a donation, you can visit svdpmarinette.com.