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Pantry started to address need
Times photo: Tere Dunlap Volunteers Lu Sandlin, Monticello, left, and Charlotte Hartwig, Monroe, look over the available food items Saturday at the new Green Cares food pantry on County C, near Monticello. The pantry opened Aug. 25.
MONROE - Green Cares, a new food pantry on County C near Monticello opened Aug. 25, reflecting the growing need for food in Green County.

Between January and May, the need for economic assistance increased by 51 percent in the county, according to Mary Gafner, a leading coordinator of the pantry.

"Never has there been anyone who has gone out of here who was not grateful," Gafner said.

Green Cares operates slightly different than other pantries. People are met by appointment, and volunteers discuss medical and employment needs, as well as fill the food requests.

"It is run differently out of dignity and respect. We want people to call for appointments, and not have to stand out in the cold," Gafner said.

Green Cares got its start when Jeannie Blumer, economic support supervisor at Green County Human Services, told Gafner she had started to see a huge need stemming from the economic downturn. Other food pantries in the county could not meet all the needs and hours required to serve the people who sought help.

As Gafner spoke to others in the Monticello community area and in the church she pastors, Washington Reformation United Church of Christ, about the need, more and more people stepped forward to address the problem.

"Before I realized how strong their commitment was, some of them began asking me how soon we were going to get started," she said. "The community has built this pantry."

With half of the Garfoot Trucking building on County C and a small grant to help with food commodities, the group began building sturdy shelves. Refrigerators and freezers were donated. With a monetary donation from Salvation Army, the group bought a new refrigerator at Monroe TV and Appliance, at a reduced price, to keep the money in the county. Area stores, such as Miller's, Verona; Roy's, New Glarus and Swiss Colony were sought out to contribute to the food supply. Volunteers signed up to fulfill the need for stocking shelves, packing boxes and meeting with clients. Appointments can be made Tuesday evenings, or Thursday or Saturday mornings.

Green Cares has helped families from as far as Browntown, Brodhead and Belleville.

"We don't know what the problems are that put them in this situation," Gafner said. Some people are living together, because they have been evicted after losing a job, she said.

Even if a family has received the monthly allotment of federal commodities, or even if they do not meet the federal income guidelines, "we still have food to give," Gafner said. They can receive food donated by individuals, organizations and businesses.

Volunteers also interview each client to assess whether they need resources for medical or dental care, insurance, housing needs or employment. If a client returns, the volunteer will follow up on their previous conversation.

"We not only feed them physically, we give emotional support," Gafner said.

Green Cares has one other unique aspect; Green County cheesemakers contribute.

"Real cheese? You're giving us real cheese? How can you do this? The farmers are in the same (economic) problem?" one client asked Gafner.

"That's why," she said. "They are giving back."

For more information on Green Cares and other Green County food pantries, contact the Green County Human Services at 938-9393.