Mark Geirach's office at the Saukville Community Food Pantry is piled with packages of diapers and other dry goods; in fact, every nook and cranny that can be used in the basement of the Parkside Community United Church of Christ is filled, but the goods are constantly in motion. "Every day we're open, 30 to 40 people each leave here with a grocery cart full — and I mean full — of food," Mark said. While it may appear that the place is well-stocked, the shelves, refrigerators and freezers of the "shopping area" are nearly bare after just one day of shoppers, and then must be restocked. "We've done real well with a small space, but we're at the limit. We need to find a new location to operate and grow."
Mark has been the Executive Director of the Pantry since they opened as a 501 (c) 3 in January of 2012. Before that time, a pantry was run by the former Immaculate Conception church in Saukville, but the members that ran it were running down and needed help. Members from Parkside, like Mark, helped to take over the project, but knew that in order to really be able to get the help needed, it would have to run independent from the churches. In the beginning, they started with some card tables piled with food; today, the Saukville Community Food Pantry serves over 475 families per month across all of Ozaukee County.
"There's more of a need than people realize in Ozaukee," Mark explained. "[Family Promise is] building a homeless shelter and people think we don't have homeless in Ozaukee County, but we do. You don't see the need here like you do in larger metropolitan areas; you don't see them under bridges or in alleys because they're couch surfing or sleeping in their cars."
Providing fresh food is a challenge the Pantry takes seriously. Thanks to a grant, the Pantry was able to get two aquaponic towers from Wisconsin-based Fork Farms, which provide fresh lettuce year-round, right from the Pantry. The towers are largely overseen by members of the Ozaukee Master Gardeners, which is just one of the ways the Pantry connects and collaborates with other community groups. Offering toiletries and other personal hygiene items is also important.
"You can buy cases of soda with your Food Share card, but you can't buy toilet paper — there's something wrong with that system," said Mark. "Junk food is cheaper, but it costs more money somewhere else down the line in medical costs. The more we can provide good food, the better."
The Saukville Community Food Pantry offers more than just food from their shelves: they will once again offer a free meal every other Saturday for people in need, beginning Saturday, October 2nd, which had been put on hold due to the pandemic. The Pantry also runs mobile pantries in Grady Park, next door to the Pantry, from April through October in concert with Feeding America; does a Back to School Fair every Fall where they recently provided school supplies to 365 kids; and, runs a Backpack Food program for kids in the Port Washington-Saukville School District elementary schools and middle school who qualify for free or reduced lunches to sign up for food to take home to their families for the weekend.
"We work with any group whose goal is keeping people fed," Mark said. "We would love the opportunity to expand our programs into other school districts, but we're just lacking in space."
Building a campaign for a new space is next on the Pantry's list. Luckily, they we're able to connect with a program at UWM that connects architectural students with a real-world project. This year, the students will do studies for the location of a new facility, then move onto conceptual drawings and recommendations for program expansions. Building new is one option, but the Pantry is open to all possibilities that might give them the 8,000 to 10,000 square feet they need, and while they're hoping to stay based in Saukville, even that is subject to change for the right location. With any luck, the Pantry will be awarded grant money to help with this new venture.
Most people know to help the Saukville Community Food Pantry by donating food and personal hygiene supplies (a list of needed supplies can be found on their website), but it is difficult to cover the real expenses of operating the Pantry, from staff salaries to rent, insurance and their truck, because grant money rarely covers those types of costs. One way people can help is to use Amazon Smile when they make purchases on Amazon and to choose the Pantry as the beneficiary, or just donate directly by clicking on the "Donate Now" button at the top of their website. However, a really fun way to help the Pantry is coming up on Saturday, October 9th from 3-9 p.m. at Grady Park in Saukville: the Food Truck Frenzy! Hit up a variety of local food trucks while listening to live music from Sam Grady & Steve Vogt and Shut The Front Door.
Of course, volunteers are always needed and welcome to join in on the Saukville Food Pantry's mission. "We started with a motto from Mother Teresa: 'If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one,'" Mark said. "We went on to feed hundreds of people, so that grew into 'Fresh Food, Fresh Hope.' We've done real well in a small space; imagine what we could do if we are given the opportunity to grow."
Learn more about the Saukville Community Food Pantry and how you can help by visiting their website: saukvillefoodpantry.org/