Jeanne Schwass-Long said one of her fondest memories while volunteering at the Stoughton United Methodist Church Food Pantry was when she saw a former student and her child.
The young boy walked into the room and saw fresh produce lying on a table. He yelled, “Mom, it is just like Christmas,” Schwass-Long recalled. Talking about that moment now still brings her to tears.
“For that boy to have such a reaction ... I never forgot that,” Schwass-Long said. “Families are so important here.”
Schwass-Long and her husband, Francis Long, have been with the local food pantry in the basement of the SUMC since 1994. The coordinator since 2015, Schwass-Long said the success of the pantry is a team effort.
“The volunteers are all very close,” she said. “We grow together as a unit.”
The couple is at the church at least four days a week stocking shelves, working with clients or accepting deliveries. Not to mention after hours work of running reports, gathering data and food orders. They have a synergy that helps propel them and the pantry, Schwass-Long said.
However, they have a difficult time taking the spotlight.
“They are very humble,” SUMC Pastor Cathy Christman said, having known the couple for about three years.
Christman said they are an integral part of the food pantry, guiding it through seasons of growth and change, and being a constant figure for the clients and the volunteers.
“There would be a hole without them. They have made their mark and have taught a lot of us about compassion and love and care and grace,” Christman said.
Although Schwass-Long does not like the accolades, she would say her husband is the shy one. They’ve been married for 20 years and met at the church. She has to force him to participate in a picture, shake someone’s hand or talk to a reporter.
“He is always trying to hide,” Schwass-Long said.
At 88 years old, Long is the informal taxi driver for the pantry. He takes calls every Tuesday to drive people without another mode of transportation to and from the pantry. They often leave with a car full of groceries.
Long was a dairy farmer all his life but wanted to keep busy after retirement, so he started volunteering at the church. When asked why he didn’t start vacationing to Florida or move up north, he said he “chose Stoughton.”
Schwass-Long was a home economics teacher in the Stoughton Area School District for 29 years. She uses her teaching and nutrition skills to build a repertoire around health.
“With my background, it just fit,” she said.
She started programs like having a nutritionist visit during open hours to talk about health and having a nurse onsite.
Schwass-Long recently gave away her first baby basket, another new initiative where new mothers receive a basket of newborn goods like outfits, diapers, wipes and materials for a home celebration with decorations and candles. Helen Rucks, Bev Fergus and Kay Wieden oversee this project.
She also took over initiatives from former director Jane Priebe, such as cooking classes and taste testing meals, to help use up an abundance of food pantry items.
The couple said they like to think of the pantry as a place of holistic care, where people can get more than food. Here they can socialize, find support and feel like they belong.
“One time someone even asked me if I could fix their car,” Schwass-Long said with a laugh.
Without the pantry, the duo said they’d have a large gap in their lives. They wouldn’t have met each other, they’d have a lot of extra time and they wouldn’t get the proud feeling of helping out others in need, who Schwass-Long said, may be helping them someday.
“(The pantry) is our life,” she said.