Hunger Task Force helps seniors 'stock up' on nutrition
"What did you bring for us today?" exclaimed a small but excited group of residents at Eagle Meadows in Eagle.
As Ed Landsittel and Bill Runnells, both volunteers at Mukwonago Food Pantry, unloaded their car outside, residents quickly peeked in boxes and chatted about this week's special treat: milk from Waukesha's Golden Guernsey Dairy, which recently shut down.
Once a month, these residents meet in the common lobby they all share and receive what are referred to as "stockboxes." The Stockbox program is run through the Hunger Task Force and is a federally sponsored program that provides supplemental food items to low-income seniors who qualify.
According to Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee, the program began in the 1980s and allows seniors who are at least 60 years old and meet income requirements to receive a variety of nutritious items once a month that help in rounding out their grocery lists.
"(Stockbox) allows them to use the limited resources they have to buy other things or food items such as those that are fresh and perishable," Tussler said. "The boxes include USDA grade A commodities and help to stretch a senior's pantry."
The items typically included in the box are dried beans, canned meat, peanut butter, dried and canned milk, cereal, juice, canned vegetables, canned fruit, rice, potato or pasta and Wisconsin cheese.
According to Tussler, there are currently 9,200 seniors registered with Milwaukee Hunger Task Force, their limit for the year. They also have a waitlist, but since registered seniors stay on the list for life or until their circumstances change, enrollment in the program is currently closed.
The food, which is purchased by the federal government, is packed into boxes by local volunteers and distributed to food pantries throughout the area. Pantries then designate dropoff or pickup sites based on their specific needs.
In addition to being a pickup site, the Mukwonago Food Pantry takes stockboxes to three senior living complexes: Birch Rock, Eagle Meadows and Lake View Terrace. According to Cindy Eggleston, executive director of the Mukwonago Food Pantry, the pantry serves 50 seniors with the help of the stockboxes.
On a sunny and very chilly Wednesday afternoon, Hunger Task Force employee Brian Murray dropped off this month's supply of 50 stockboxes and brought along that special supply of recovered pint-size Golden Guernsey milk. The smiles were endless and the excitement over milk and the donated bread products put an extra energy in the air as seniors emerged from their apartments to socialize and sign for their box of pantry favorites.
Bernice Sodenwasser, a resident, sat comfortably on the arm of a plush chair and opened her pint of milk. With a long sip and a smile, Sodenwasser explained the value of the program.
She said she appreciates all the items in the box, and it's hard to pick a favorite. It only took a second for her to change her answer.
"Well, today my favorite is the chocolate milk!" she exclaimed, and went back to sipping on her pint.
Over the chatter and excitement, Runnells and Landsittel began helping residents carry the boxes to their rooms. Some residents remained to sit down with Kathy Saltzmann, a community outreach nurse at ProHealth Care.
Saltzmann does office hours with the Mukwonago Food Pantry and as part of that, visits Eagle Meadows once a month and Lakeview Terrace twice a month. She comes to Eagle Meadows on the same day and at the same time as the stockboxes.
"It's so convenient for the residents," Saltzmann said. "We know they will come out and get their box, and then they can talk to me if they'd like."
Saltzmann provides blood pressure screenings, does chair exercises and answers some general health questions for each resident.
Lynn Wilke sat with Saltzmann discussing her diabetes, while Wilke's dog, Angel, curled up in her lap.
"(Stockboxes) have been important especially for me because I've been diabetic for 40 years," Wilke said. "It's helpful to have extra nutrition, especially the juice if my sugar is low."
While this is not part of the federal program, Mukwonago Food Pantry works with Saltzmann to provide these extra services to residents free of charge to help the community.
To find out more about the Stockbox program, visit the Mukwonago Food Pantry. To find out whether you or someone you know is qualified to be placed on the stockbox waitlist, call 211 from any landline phone or (866) 211-3380 from a cellphone.
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