Sheboygan Food Bank has new breakfast program for the homeless
SHEBOYGAN – Last winter, Santino Laster felt the need to help a large population of less fortunate people who came to the library where he worked.
“Just being the person I am, I constantly talked to them and understood what they needed. Sometimes it was a meal here or there, ”Laster said.
For weeks, Laster bought people meals or nights in hotel rooms, while trying to help some with things like buying clothes for a job or starting housing requests through the Lakeshore Community Action Program – a non-profit organization that helps low to moderate income people in four counties. Laster co-chairs the organization’s Sheboygan County Housing Coalition.
When Laster asked local organizations for more help with meals, more volunteers stepped forward and the initiative became the Sheboygan County Food Bank “Homeless Lunch” program. Homelessness and hunger are two often overlooked issues, say the volunteers, and they hope to continue to expand the program.
The lunch program has “exploded” since its inception
Laster contacted two places for more help: the Sheboygan County Food Bank and Sheboygan Area Pay Next, a Facebook group where people can search for or donate resources, he said.
After seeing an article published in February on Sheboygan Area Pay it Forward, Cheryl Lemerond began helping to serve the breakfasts. She now coordinates about seven other volunteers for the program and is looking for more.
At first, Lemerond basically bought everything, she said – drinks, snacks and supplies for making sandwiches. At that time, about 15 people a week were coming for a meal, and over time, “it just blew up,” she said.
Since the food bank helped establish the Homeless Lunch program, Lemerond has been able to request the food and supplies needed each week, and the food bank provides what is available.
Lemerond also collects donations from local food companies. One of them is Panera, which gives dough twice a week for the bread to make the sandwiches. Other companies donated cheese, sandwich meats and other lunch items.
This summer, lunches came out of the library for Open door, a downtown mental health drop-in center, which provided space with a closet, refrigerator and access to an oven.
Volunteers serve food from 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday to Friday every week at Open Door, providing sandwiches, cheese, sausage, crisps and snacks, as well as various hygiene items including brushes toothpaste and shower gel.
Some weeks, as many as 120 people came to receive meals from the program, with an average of around 60 to 85 people per week, Lemerond said. Although the program is primarily aimed at homeless people, “it caters to anyone who needs a meal,” adding that families, individuals and children stopped in the summer.
Program organizers see need to further expand the lunch program
The Homeless Lunch program addresses more than food insecurity, program officials said, and they hope to do even more in the future to meet the needs of the community.
Lemerond said Homeless Lunch volunteers talk to people daily to determine their needs. For example, she estimates that she donated around 200 pairs of socks this summer, and after a recent conversation with a man she got to know through the program, Lemerond hopes to coordinate a drive for new sleeping bags.
“I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s needed here, just (to help with) the pretty basic needs of people,” she said. “My job is just to pay it forward, to show a little humanity and to understand that this is a problem.”
Lemerond’s long-term goal is to open a homeless shelter, but the next step towards that goal would be to turn the current program into something of a soup kitchen.
“What we want to see in Sheboygan is a more cohesive lunch program,” said Liz Kroll, senior director of programs and community impact at the county food bank. “We’re trying to find a home port where we can have lunch there seven days a week, maybe a hot lunch and a packed lunch for the evening meal,” she said.
Kroll said there are more resources for the homeless in Sheboygan now than there were ten years ago, but it’s still a largely unseen problem.
“We’re such a generous community and we want to help people as much as we can, but I really think (hunger and homelessness) are hidden,” Kroll said.
Homelessness is less visible in Sheboygan than in many large cities, so some people do not realize that it is a local problem or do not understand the various factors that can lead to homelessness .
For example, mental illness and addiction can make it difficult for some people to maintain stable housing, but so do family crises like divorce or job loss, said Sally Davis, a major at the Salvation Army in Sheboygan County.
Homelessness on the rise in Sheboygan County
An estimated 500 people are homeless in Sheboygan each year, according to the March 2021 draft of a affordable housing study ordered by the city. The study notes that the Point-in-Time Counts likely underestimate the homeless because they do not include people staying in hotels or “doubling down” with other families.
According to data from Lakeshore CAP, 31 households are currently homeless in Sheboygan County, including four households with children. This number includes families or singles living on the streets or in an emergency shelter, but does not include people who jump onto a couch or in other situations sometimes classified as homeless.
The number of homeless people is on the rise, according to Davis – not just in Sheboygan, and especially over the past year and a half.
“A lot of people don’t want to ask for help, they don’t know who to turn to and they don’t know who to talk to,” Laster said. “They feel like no one is helping them, there is no hope.”
Davis said there is always a need for different types of shelter beds. The Salvation Army in Sheboygan, which is the only general purpose emergency homeless shelter in the county (there is a shelter for domestic violence for women), typically has 45 beds, but is currently operating at half capacity due to high levels of COVID-19 transmission in the county.
The collaboration between different agencies in Sheboygan – including the food bank, The Salvation Army, Safe Harbor and Lakeshore CAP – has been invaluable in trying to meet the needs of the community, Davis said.
“No program can do it all, but by all working together we can take different pieces of the puzzle,” she said.
Following: Stock the shelves: A Sheboygan woman has started bagging weekend food for hungry kids. The program now feeds hundreds.
Following: Stock the shelves: The Sheboygan County Food Bank served 2,500 families at the start of 2020. As of June, it served 9,500.
Want to help? The Stock the Shelves donation window is open throughout October
Stock the Shelves is an annual campaign of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in partnership with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin that encourages readers to donate to help fight hunger in their local communities. Since 2010, Stock the Shelves has raised more than $ 5 million for Wisconsin pantries through donations from readers and support from community partners, including credit unions.
The money raised has helped provide approximately half a million meals to people in need in our communities.
Stock the Shelves aims to help those in need in communities served by the following newspapers in Northeastern Wisconsin: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Appleton Post Crescent, Green Bay Press Gazette, Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, Sheboygan Press, Fond du Lac Reporter, Oshkosh Northwestern, Wausau Daily Herald, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Marshfield News Record, Stevens Point Journal, Door County Advocate, Oconto County Reporter and Kewaunee County Star-News. Donations will help support the community in which the donor resides.
Checks should be made payable to Feeding American Eastern Wisconsin, ATTN: Stock the Shelves, and mailed to 2911 W. Evergreen Drive, Appleton WI 54913. Include with your contribution the donor’s address with city, state and postcode for internal processing, a note of whether or not the donation should be kept anonymous, whether the donation is in memory of someone special, and the donor’s name as it should appear in the advertisement thank you note that will be published in the Thanksgiving edition of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin dailies.
To donate online, visit foodamericawi.org/stocktheshelvesdonate/.