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Seasonal Economy, Seasonal Hardships

As the winter chill finally blew into Door County this week the volunteers at Lakeshore CAP in Sturgeon Bay prepared for the annual surge in families visiting the community action program’s food pantry.

Peanut butter is a popular item for families with children, though it will be harder to come by this winter as peanut prices rise.

Director Sandi Soik said the pantry served 262 households in July, but that number will surpass 350 in December, further evidence that Door County’s seasonal tourism economy creates seasonal hardship as well.

“In the winter more people are unemployed, families need coats and jackets for kids, fuel bills come up, and taxes are due,” Soik said.

That leaves many people struggling to supply basic needs, and the volunteer workforce made up of a core group of six generous women will help more people as they take reluctant steps through the door of the food pantry.

“They’re often pretty down when they come in,” said Sue Serrahn, a volunteer who lives in Sturgeon Bay and works 8 – 10 hours per week at the pantry. “Our goal is to have a smile on their face when they leave. People say ‘I never expected to be in this position.’ It can be tough. I see a lot of tears as people pick up food. Especially from people in their first visit here.”

The nondescript face of Lakeshore CAP on 3rd Avenue in Sturgeon Bay, where the food pantry survives on the backs of dedicated volunteers.

Serrahn began volunteering after coming to a crossroads in her life several years ago. Going through her own hardships made her recognize more than ever how vulnerable all of us are.

“We’re all a step away from needing help, and just because you need help doesn’t mean you’re not a good person,” Serrahn said. “By coming here they can save money that they can put toward another need like fuel oil or clothing.”

Volunteers like Serrahn, who showed up early on a December Tuesday morning the week before Christmas to stock shelves, are integral to the organization that saw its federal funding trimmed this year when Community Service Block Grants were scaled back. In February Lakeshore CAP announced that it was looking to get out of the food pantry business because it wasn’t viable to operate the pantry locations in Kewaunee and Door County anymore.

A year later, they’re still seeking to partner with another organization to operate the pantry, though Lakeshore CAP would still administer the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) contract through which government surplus food is allocated.

In November the pantry served 343 households and 753 people, providing food and personal items on a scale based on the size of the household. Clients can use the pantry once a month, but Soik said people are not turned away if they must come more frequently due to emergency.

When those emergencies increase this winter, it’s volunteers like Serrahn that will greet them, doing what they can to soften the harsh Wisconsin winter for hundreds of families.

Sandi Soik pages through the long role of community members and businesses who have donated food or money to the pantry this year.

Fast Facts

• 202 pounds of bakery donated to the pantry by a local restaurant in the first week of December

• 25 percent of pantry clients are elderly and on fixed income.

• 75 percent of the pantry’s operating hours are provided by unpaid volunteers.

• 65 percent of clients are from the City of Sturgeon Bay, Town of Sturgeon Bay, and Sevastopol

• The maximum monthly income for a single person can’t exceed $1,679 to be eligible to use the pantry. For a family of four the maximum monthly income is $3,446.

• Volunteers donated 14,000 hours to the pantry in 2011