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Providing through pandemic
Some food pantry volunteers put themselves at risk to help others
pandemic pantry volunteers
Cher Venden loads groceries into a car Saturday at the Green Cares Food Pantry in Monticello. Venden is one of the 175 volunteers that work throughout the year at the pantry. - photo by Brenda Steurer

MONTICELLO — There are two days each week at Green Cares Food Pantry at W5198 County C in Monticello that last nine hours.

Sometimes, those days will see up to 45 families in need come through, hoping to accept groceries. 

“Those days get long,” said Marcia Voss, Green Cares Food Pantry board president and volunteer pantry manager. “It’s been extremely challenging.”

Despite governor’s orders to stay at home and reduce group sizes to help slow the spread of COVID-19, workers at the Green Cares Food Pantry still congregate a couple of times each week — despite many of them being in the “high risk” category — to lend a hand to those in need. 

The food pantry is under the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, which made a decision saying that volunteers 70 and older should refrain from helping. But since Green Cares has its own board, Voss said they decided it could be a personal decision on behalf of each volunteer. 

For their safety, some have chosen not to continue helping during this time. 

Voss will soon be 72, and her husband, Bob, is a year older. He heads up all deliveries, pickups and truck and van loading and unloading for Green Cares. Neither of them really considered stopping their work to help those in need. 

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Bob and Marcia Voss volunteer at the Green Cares Food Pantry and because of their age, both are in the “high risk” category for COVID-19. Marcia is the Green Cares board president and the pantry manager and Bob handles all of the deliveries and loading/unloading of food. - photo by Brenda Steurer

“It crosses your mind, but a higher decision to help people who need a hand is a bigger decision for me,” Voss said. 

Although the pantry is small, Voss said they distance from one another as much as possible and additional sanitary measures are being taken. 

The pantry is open either 12 or 13 days each month. 

“We’re scrambling to find people to fill in and some people are doing extra duty,” she said.

Rhonda Christensen, SWCAP pantry coordinator, said a lot of pantries in the area have been left with few volunteers. More than 90% of them are over age 70. 

“It makes it difficult,” she said. In Iowa County, Christensen said every volunteer was in the high-risk category, and SWCAP employees have now taken over those duties entirely. Darlington, she said, has been left with just two people. 

“Some have changed hours,” she said as to how pantries are dealing with the orders. “We’re trying to get people gloves and masks and to stay 6 feet away — but it’s been challenging to find these items.”

Christensen said since Green Cares has its own board, they can make decisions for their own pantry. 

“We have amazing volunteers,” Christensen said. “These people are stepping up and making sure people are being fed. Green Cares goes above and beyond.”

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Anna Marie Davison packs the frozen food in the boxes that are ready for pickup at the Green Cares Food Pantry in Monticello. - photo by Brenda Steurer

The Green County Food Pantry, also under SWCAP, is doing well with volunteers, said Levi Reincke, onsite coordinator.

“We have a solid group of volunteers that show up every week and help us out,” he said. He said they even turned some volunteers away. They have a staff of about five volunteers, and local churches send two people every Monday to help pack totes. They average giving about 160 totes each month, he said, and they typically serve between 300 to 400 people per month.

Christensen said the USDA is giving a food surplus, which helps, and Second Harvest Food Pantry, where they purchase most of their food, is offering boxes of food for free. Voss said donations have increased a little as well. 

“So that’s amazing,” she said, noting that food pantries can add to the boxes, which is what Green Cares is doing. “The biggest priority from SWCAP is getting people the food they need.”

However, the amount of food is much less than they would typically give, Voss said, so they add to them.

Reincke said they are also supplementing the Second Harvest boxes. 

A lot of change came to the pantries in a short time span, and Voss said Green Cares used to work directly with families to offer food preferences and sizes depending on needs. Now, the interaction is kept to a minimum. 

We have amazing volunteers. These people are stepping up and making sure people are being fed. Green Cares goes above and beyond.
Rhonda Christensen, SWCAP pantry coordinator

Outside of volunteers, no one is allowed inside the food pantry. The “pre-boxed” option from Second Harvest poses some challenges, like lack of refrigeration space and a much shorter supply of food. 

Voss said the boxes offer about 1/5 of what needy families would have received before. And when families were used to receiving enough to eat for 7-10 days, Voss said the pre-boxed food is more fitting for a day or two. The pantry is working diligently to add to the boxes, she said, by supplementing with additional items. 

“We felt we’d like to give more because could,” Voss said.

It also helps that the USDA food surplus will be available to them. Once they receive those foods, Voss said they hope to supplement even more “bonus foods” into the boxes.

The Green Cares Food Pantry currently serves about 300 families, or about 900 individuals each month. They’ve seen some increase since the new “Safer at Home” order and businesses closing, but not a lot, she said.

“I think it will increase as more people file for unemployment,” Voss said. “And we will try to serve them.”

They’re asking people who would like to utilize the food pantry to make an appointment, which are scheduled about 15 minutes apart. That way, food pantry volunteers know what size family is receiving the food and can plan as much as possible.

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Denise Pinnow handles the phones and orders at the pantry. - photo by Brenda Steurer

Currently, no food donations are being accepted; however, monetary donations are very much welcomed and are almost always the best option because the pantry can stretch dollars further because of purchasing options. It’s also important because of sanitary reasons at this time. 

Even outside of typical food pantry volunteer options, volunteers are also needed to check phone messages, help with cleaning and more. When the pantry is running, about four people are needed to bag items and take them to vehicles during each shift. 

The Green Cares Food Pantry is open the first and third Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The best way to reach the pantry is to call 608-938-4238 or to volunteer, call Cyndi Foley at 608-214-2207 or email 

The Green County Food Pantry is taking donations from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays and also during their serving days which are from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Wednesdays. Monetary donations are also accepted by mail at P.O. Box 15, Monroe, WI 53566.