MILWAUKEE — All it takes is a stop at the grocery store to get hit with the reality of inflation. It will likely leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Prices for almost everything are up, and the cost increase is poised to cause a problem when it comes to access to food in Milwaukee.
When the price of food goes up it can hit a pantry's budget just like it hits your own wallet. "15 to 20% of our food budget is purchased," explained Vincent Noth, the executive director of the Riverwest Food Pantry.
Feeding America, a partner of the pantry, says food banks will spend 40% more this year to buy food. While inflation is bumping up prices, supply chain problems are slowing things down, and more people are walking in the door. "Just now we're starting to see the numbers climb again," confirmed Noth.
Lawmakers in some states, including Wisconsin, are moving to change FoodShare benefits that were enhanced during the height of the pandemic.
About a quarter of the people who visit Riverwest Food Pantry live on a fixed income and Noth said FoodShare benefits, and access to a well-stocked, local pantry like Riverwest Food Pantry is a saving grace. "We're a big supporter of the SNAP (FoodShare) benefits and we're a big supporter of asking people to support local food pantries."
So, what does support look like? Donations of food or money and volunteering helps too. And Noth added another thing, "We want you to think differently about the city." In fact, he called it "the most important ask." It's a simple invitation. "We're asking them to come to our center and meet somebody that's different than them," explained Noth.
Someone you might run into is Tyrone Branch, who is a long-time advocate for the pantry. "There's a lot of help the pantry offers the community — more than just food," said Branch. "They find employment for people, build relationships."
Branch and Noth agree that relationships have the power to shift the stigma around what a pantry is and who needs help in our community, versus who provides help. "Milwaukee has over 30 ZIP codes," said Noth. "But we're one city... every one of those ZIP codes needs each other."
Branch acknowledged that it's easy for people to stay where they're comfortable — but it won't lead to positive change. "It's so easy to just back up and just stay where you're comfortable," he said. I really believe if you're going to grow, if you're going to grow the way you're supposed to grow, you gotta venture out. You gotta love on somebody else other than who you're used to. And we gotta make this blend how it's supposed to blend. That's the only way we're gonna win."
The conversation about building a community where everyone gives, and everyone receives, will continue at Turner Hall where Riverwest Food Pantry is hosting a story slam. The eventis free, open to the public, and it begins at 6:00p.m. on Thursday, April 21.