Barb Stock

The Oregon Area Food Pantry will have more fresh produce — like the bananas volunteer Barb Stock collected for a guest in April — coming to its shelves later this summer. Even with an expansion of The Emergency Food Assistance Program, increases in Second Harvest funding and a garden located at 805 Union Road, managing director Diane Sliter said visitor numbers are down amid the pandemic.

The Oregon Area Food Pantry has become equipped with resources allowing guests expanded access to its services amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis.

Yet pantry guest numbers have plateaued in the past two months, managing director Diane Sliter told the Observer.

That’s even with The Emergency Food Assistance Program expansions and Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin funding increases, she said. She said the pantry also has in its service arsenal an expanded fresh produce garden located at Anderson Farm County Park, 805 Union Road, and over 2,200 pounds of food donations it has received in the last few months.

“I don’t think all households are feeling the (income) pinch yet because of the stimulus money,” Sliter said. “August could be a whole different scenario.”

She said other pantry leaders she’s spoken to from Dane County have agreed with her assessment. Sliter said while numbers are lower now, they might rise again in August once extended unemployment funding under the federal CARES Act expires. Sliter said guests have told her they are receiving more income on those benefits than they would be working.

Sliter said in March, 506 individuals visited the pantry and 554 in April — when Wisconsin was in the middle of Safer at Home orders. However in May, when Sliter suspected a lot of unemployment benefits kicked in for individuals facing delays in March and April, that number dropped to 335. In June, it increased slightly to 398, she said.

TEFAP, which the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced Monday, June 8, now allows households with incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level to receive a monthly share of food — meat, vegetables, fruit and other options. The United States Department of Agriculture approved it to go into effect June 1, according to a news release. The previous income threshold was 185%. This means someone can receive the new TEFAP benefits if the income threshold for a household of one is $38,280, rather than the previous amount of $23,606, the release states.

And Dane County executive Joe Parisi signed a resolution at a press conference held at Badger Prairie Needs Network Wednesday, June 24, that gives Second Harvest $3 million. Sliter said while OAFP normally pays fees for the food it receives from Second Harvest, this money covers that.

In addition to how the pantry has added to its inventory with the above programs and funding, even more fresh produce will make its way to shelves come late summer.

The food pantry gardens at Anderson Park, which took up six raised beds last summer, and now also occupies two one-acre spaces. Sliter said volunteers are growing a variety of vegetables and herbs there.

So come August, Sliter said the pantry is prepared for a potential uptick in guests. While OAFP hasn’t opened its interior space yet, volunteers are still offering curbside pickup services with prepackaged care boxes. They take every health precaution necessary, she said.

“We have the inventory on our shelves,” Sliter said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.