The Lake County Food Pantry moving into its newly-renovated space is a “remarkable” and “transformational” change, according to its president.
The food pantry, which has operated since 1983, moved back into the Interlakes Community Action Partnership (ICAP) building at 111 S. Van Eps Ave. in April after working out of a temporary location since November 2022. The Lake County Food Pantry provides food, including canned goods, meat and produce, as well as diapers and other supplies, to county residents.
This expanded room will fulfill space and storage needs the pantry has sought for years, said Jeff Nelson, the board’s president.
Soon after its founding, ICAP and the food pantry partnered to help distribute food to more people. But, the food pantry remains a separate charitable organization and does its own fundraising. Nelson said Madison’s First Presbyterian Church provided a room to help the pantry store food, and though he is thankful for the partnership, being split between the ICAP building and the church made distribution and transportation difficult, particularly for the retired volunteers.
“The Presbyterian Church gave us a room in their building, and that was wonderful,” Nelson said. “But, when we had the opportunity to consolidate to a single location and have a space that was adequate to create a little, mini corner grocery store, we just felt like that was the best thing that was going to happen to us. And it was.”
This new location provides more storage space, helps cut on travel time and creates a more community-oriented environment, Nelson said. The room has large shelves to store large and surplus items, as well as fridges and freezers for chilled goods.
“If you come here to feed your family, it’s a challenge, and we want to provide the easiest access and the best experience people can benefit from that this can have. Improving it to this kind of condition fundamentally changes our ability to do that,” Nelson said. “Our basic mission stays the same. How we do it now has changed in a very positive way.”
This renovation would be impossible without funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. ARPA was a COVID-19 stimulus package passed by Congress. It allocated $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments to assist “households, small businesses, and nonprofits.” Nonprofits like the Lake County Food Pantry could apply to county and city governments to fund projects.
The pantry received about $150,000 after applying 18 months ago, Nelson said. This was used to offset costs for using ICAP’s space and pay for certain supplies, like freezers.
The Lake County Commission, which granted the request and provide other financial assistance to the pantry, was invited for a tour of the pantry Tuesday. Commissioner Corey Johnke said it was “very satisfying” to see the renovated space, and Chairperson Kelli Wollmann agreed.
“For it to be open to the public without having to fill out a form or any restrictions of that matter, that makes it all the more easy for them to utilize it,” she said. “That’s what it’s there for.”
According to Nelson, the food pantry served 634 families, or 1823 individuals, about 40,000 pounds of food in 2022. With the U.S. Census Bureau estimating the county’s population at about 11,000, this means more than 10% of the population has benefited directly from the food pantry.
Commissioner Adam Leighton said he was surprised at the amount of food the pantry distributes.
“I wouldn’t have guessed our numbers were that high,” he said.