Helping their neighbors get by, one bag of groceries at a time

In Wisconsin, the Hayward Community Food Shelf provides for families, children and seniors

Some clients visit just once. Others arrive once a month, for much longer than they’d like.

“We had one gentleman,” recalls Cindy Lawson, financial support coordinator with the Hayward Community Food Shelf, “who came in every month and always greeted me with a big smile and would say, ‘Hi, Cindy.’

“We would always chat and then one month, he came in and started to cry and said, ‘I’m not going to be here anymore, I’ve gotten a job and everything is going to be okay now. I wouldn’t have survived without the help of the food shelf.’ ”

Every Monday—and the first Saturday of the month—individuals, families, seniors and children make their way to the Hayward Community Food Shelf, in northwest Wisconsin, to receive the bag of groceries that helps them get by.

Established in 1985, funded solely by donations from individuals and organizations and run by volunteers, the shelf serves about 300 families each month, providing about three days’ worth of food to individuals and families—with compassion, without judgment.

“Our clientele is quite varied,” explains Barb Schweig, chair of the food shelf. “Sometimes it’s a person who has recently had an expensive medical procedure and needs a little help to get through the month, or recent divorcees or those who just lost their job. For some, their social security check just isn’t enough for their families.”

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The food shelf also works closely with area schools to provide backpacked weekend meals for kids.

There are many reasons people visit the food shelf, but what’s important is that they feel welcomed and accepted. “For some, they drive by us for months before they work up the nerve to come in,” says Schweig.

Of the food shelf’s clientele, 51% are adults between the ages of 18 and 59, while children make up 31% and the remaining 18% are seniors—all of whom arrive from different circumstances.

“I can remember one situation where the parents of a family were killed in a car accident and a 17-year-old came in with all of his siblings,” says Schweig. “Most of our clients live in homes, but occasionally, we get someone who lives in their car, so we’re very careful to ask if people have access to refrigeration or are able to cook—and we often provide cooking tips and tricks, as well.”

At Enbridge, we’re committed to being a good neighbor and value actively participating in the communities we operate and live in. Our recent donation of $5,000 has helped purchase a new walk-in freezer for the organization, and we’ve also committed to purchase $2,000 worth of food locally for the food bank.

During the holidays, the shelf provides a holiday meal with all of the trimmings for either the month of November or December, and in the summer, provisions like hot dogs and potato chips are distributed for a summer picnic.

“We operate in Sawyer County, but really, we serve anyone who considers the area their home,” says Schweig. “What’s important is that we work hard to welcome our clients and make sure they know we’re here for them.”

(TOP PHOTO: The packing crew at the Hayward Community Food Shelf, which serves about 300 families in Wisconsin's Sawyer County each month.)