While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how the Waunakee Food Pantry operates, thanks to a generous community, area families facing food insecurity can still find staples there.
Food pantry volunteer Sheryll Gehrmann spoke to the Waunakee Rotary Club during their virtual meeting Dec. 17 about some of the changes and the pandemic’s overall impact on the operation.
It’s director, Natalie Dresen, is stepping down after more than 20 years, and the pantry will have its first paid position – a part-time food coordinator. Natalie will stay on with the Waunakee Ecumenical Board, Sheryll said, noting the pantry is a function of that board. With job losses resulting from the pandemic, the number of families the pantry serves has doubled – from about 60 to 120, Sheryll said.
The Waunakee Food Pantry works with the emergency food assistance program and the Community Action Coalition, and both require no contact at the facility. That’s posed challenges for the volunteers who now provide outside service, particularly in rain and snow.
When the pandemic began, the food pantry would bring pre-boxed food to clients who came during pick-up times. But now, Sheryll and fellow volunteer Lynda Benin take orders. Families receive a list of meat, dairy and other food and toiletries and place the order in a drop box in advance. The volunteers then fill the orders and during pick-up times, bring them to clients as they wait in the parking lot. In pre-COVID times, families could pick out the needed items from the pantry shelves.
 “They love it,” Sheryll said about the order process. “They’re loving the whole concept. They’re not returning the food like we saw before. When we saw prepackaged boxes, we got half the food back.”
Afterwards, volunteers would have to restock that food, Sheryll said, calling the process “a hassle.”
The Waunakee Rotary Club and others have provided donations to help keep shelves stocked, and Sheryll said the volunteers have been buying more food than normal to keep up with the demand.
The food pantry has seen more food and monetary donations during the Christmas season. Families have donated milk and non-perishable foods, including some who, rather than buying Christmas gifts this year, have purchased food for the pantry, in some cases delivering hundreds of pounds, along with a constant supply of milk. The pantry now has another freezer located in the office.
“So we are keeping our head above water,” Sheryll said.
The Community Action Coalition provides meat and dairy every month, and Sheryll said without that agency, the pantry would probably not be in operation.
The pantry is located on S. Division Street in a space donated by the Savannah Company, and  Sheryll said the owner has been trying to find more space for the operation.
Once open five days per month, the pantry is now open just three – two Wednesdays and one Saturday - mainly because of COVID and the weather.
“It’s a lot for the volunteers to be working in harsh conditions,” Sheryll said.
The number of volunteers has also been reduced, as the number of people allowed inside the pantry has been limited to four, with three outside in the elements serving the clients.
The space is fairly narrow, and while the volunteers wear masks and take other precautions, only so many can fit safely. So far, no one has tested positive for COVID.
The volunteers will deliver the food to clients in rare cases, when someone is ill or has no transportation. But the food pantry lacks the volunteers to provide a full-delivery service.
Several of their volunteers over age 60 have suspended their service due to COVID, she added.
Because the volunteers are considered essential workers, they could possibly be moved up on the list of those who eligible for the vaccine, Sheryll said.
Overall, the pantry has seen an increase in both donations and clients.
“We just keep getting through it, and we are looking forward to COVID ending so we can get back to our normal routine,” she said.
Other news:
-No meetings Dec. 24 and Dec. 30 - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you Jan. 7.
-”Winners” of the club elections are Joe Baer, president elect; Jim Elvekrog, treasurer; and new board members Jennifer Tasker and Ellen Schaaf.
-Volunteers are needed to help take down the Rotary Lights Jan. 9-10.
-People have been generously giving as they drive through the Rotary In Lights display.
Birthdays: Dec. 25, David Weishoff; Dec. 27, Jim Kattner
Anniversaries: Dec. 27, Jim and Jean Elvekrog; Dec. 27, Rich and Sue Wipperfurth; Jan. 2, Jim and Linda Schmitz; Jan. 2, Ellen and Vincent Schaaf.