Increasing numbers of La Crosse area families need food assistance to avoid sparse meals for holidays

Need is year-round, but it's especially heart-wrenching around holiday season, food pantries say

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — More La Crosse area families are in need of food this holiday season, but the need isn’t just because of the holidays.

In recent months at WAFER Food Pantry, Executive Director Erin Waldhart said average demand went from about 20 to 25 families a day to 30. The holiday season is a time to gather, oftentimes around a table.

“That whole thing of family and togetherness and the activities that happen over the holiday season. And if you don’t have enough discretionary income, how do you participate in those activities like you might want to?” Waldhart said.

Need for food is up, which Waldhart thinks is for several reasons.

“The (COVID-19 relief) programs are decreasing or ending, and also with an increase in groceries and the effect that is having on people is contributing to the increase,” Waldhart said. “What we’ve noticed is that people that haven’t utilized our service in the last year and a half to two years are now starting to come back.”

Food donations also rise during the holidays thanks to Rotary Lights, but those donations can’t always keep up with demand. Food pantries and banks always need more.

“Folks who are struggling are having an even harder time during Christmastime. They’re looking at, you know, can I afford food with the higher prices? Or can I get Christmas gifts for the kids?” said Shelly Fortner, executive director of the Hunger Task Force, which serves area pantries.

Of course, the need extends beyond the holidays, Fortner said, adding, “You know, hunger is all year-round. It’s so important that the community supports programs like ours.”

Donations and volunteers are always welcome.

If you’d like to volunteer or donate or are in need of food assistance you can check both Wafer and the Hunger Task Force’s websites for up-to-date information.

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