Breaking Bread in Hard Times

One story from the Christian tradition tells of Jesus blessing a few loaves and fishes, making the food sufficient to feed a multitude of people. Some families today who find themselves short one fish of a meal would be grateful if their prayers had such power.

However, people in Door County are finding ways to stretch their food budgets during these difficult economic times. Some are discovering resources to help them feed their families, while others who do okay are taking advantage of ways to share with their troubled neighbors.

While the bailouts and bankruptcies, layoffs and business failures, falling stock values and rising unemployment rates have affected everyone in our nation, they have especially changed the way people eat.

Sister Bay Piggly Wiggly Manager Gordy Krueger has found that people shop differently now, using more coupons and choosing sale items and store brands. “We sell the same number of cans,” he said, “but the value of the food sold is 6 percent less.”

He also has observed that people make fewer trips to shop, but buy more food each time, a result of high gas prices.

The most dramatic change he noted has been in the number of participants in Wisconsin’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program that offers a food subsidy to expectant and new mothers, up 50 percent over last year.

“Many people are not aware that we [in Door County] have a relatively high rate of families and individuals who qualify for the Federal Food Stamp program,” said Joanne Ator, Economic Support Supervisor for the Door County Department of Social Services. “That rate seems to be climbing higher every year.”

In December of 2007, 570 households participated, benefiting 1,186 individual recipients, 505 of them children; in December of 2008, 660 households took advantage of the program, 1,380 individuals, 563 of them children.

Stella Huff, who has been coordinator of the Feed and Clothe My People food pantry in Sturgeon Bay for 23 years, noted, “Requests for food are up 25 percent, but donations have been down somewhat.” While there is a problem with the increased demand, “We can still help people,” she said.

The Lakeshore Community Action Program (CAP) has also seen a 25 percent increase in food requests, said Marion Regter, Pantry Coordinator.

Sandi Soik, Youth Services Coordinator with Lakeshore CAP, recalled, “The first day we were open this month, we served 105 households between the hours of 11 and 4,” a record for the organization.

Loaves and Fishes, an ecumenical program that provides meals both in Sturgeon Bay and Sister Bay, has also experienced a 25 percent increase in usage over last year, said coordinator Ann Johnson. “We are seeing more young working families,” she said, “well dressed, coming from work. They can use the money they save by not paying for a meal to pay bills.”

These people are the underemployed who are either working part-time, or employed full-time with pay that does not keep up with the cost of living.

These workers could be wait staff in restaurants, for example. A few established eating places in Door County are laying off food servers for the first time, as fewer people are eating out, and a number of those diners are pinching their pennies. Working wait staff are reporting that while tips averaged 20 percent in past years, now they are 15 percent.

Jenny Spude, Nutrition Coordinator with the UW-Extension Office, suggested a few ways that people can stretch their fishes and loaves.

“Look at staples when you shop,” she said, “oatmeal, brown rice, dried beans.” They are reasonably priced and versatile in meal preparation. She said that oatmeal, for example, is not only a cereal but a binder in meatloaf or an ingredient for cookies.

“People also need to investigate the resources in their community,” she added. Perhaps they qualify for food stamps. And there are food pantries: Feed and Clothe My People (920.743.9053; 204 N. 14th Ave, Sturgeon Bay), Lakeshore CAP (920.743.0191; 131 S. 3rd Ave.) and the ecumenically supplied Koinonia Kupboard serving Northern Door (920.854.2544; Sister Bay Baptist Church).

More people are planting gardens as a way of eating better for less. In fact, Sturgeon Bay is planning a new community food garden. Contact Spude at 920.746.2260 or [email protected].

Pam Peterson, UW-Extension Family Living Agent, noted that those gardeners who wish to can or freeze their produce may contact the UW-Extension office for printed directions (920.746.2260).

Peterson also noted the existence of coupon Web sites popular with shoppers determined to cut their food costs.

Gina Wautier, Director of the Family Centers of Door County, suggested the Door County SHARE food-buying club that purchases food items in quantities and then distributes them at a lower cost to participants through the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Sturgeon Bay. Contact local coordinator Joyce Lewis at 920.818.0145 or email [email protected]. Visit for information.

The Loaves and Fishes program, which is an outgrowth of a Moravian Church mission project, offers meals at the Sturgeon Bay campus of the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) on the first, third and fourth Friday of every month from 5:30 – 7:30 pm, and at St. Rosalia’s Catholic Church in Sister Bay on the fourth Tuesday each month from 5 – 6:30 pm.

The ecumenical meal program involves the cooperation of NWTC, Door County Memorial Hospital, restaurants and other organizations. No questions are asked of diners, no donations requested, and no prayers or proselytizing accompanies the meal.

“Jesus can take care of himself,” Ann Johnson said, quoting one of the clergymen working in the program. “We just feed people.”

People are treated with dignity, seated by a host and served by a five-course meal by wait staff. None of the volunteer organizations, churches, or workers seeks credit or recognition. “We follow Matthew 25:40,” Johnson said. “’Whatever you do for the least of these my brethren, you do for me.’” For information call Johnson at 920.743.2744.

Regter of Lakeshore CAP spoke of the spirit of collaboration that exists among the agencies and organizations that provide assistance in Door County.

“We don’t compete,” she said, “we cooperate and make referrals to one another.”

They also feel compassion for those who are victims of the economy and respect the pride of those who are seeking help.