The increasing number of people relying on Tosa Cares has nearly emptied the food pantry's shelves. Now, volunteers have one month to collect donations and restock before the next distribution.
"Our donations need to increase," said Tom Ertel, who coordinates the community outreach program with wife, Linda. "We have difficulty keeping up with the demand."
So far this year, Tosa Cares has already helped out about 1,000 people. Those numbers are up dramatically from the 389 people the pantry assisted in 2008. The Ertels attribute the increased referrals from police, school social workers and church pastors to job losses and financial hardships of the down economy coupled with word getting out about Tosa Cares after more than a year in operation.
In August, 133 people came through the pantry doors at Mount Zion Church, 12012 W. North Ave. Some needed assistance for a brief time while they look for a new job while others are longer-term clients.
"People that need that little extra help," Linda Ertel said.
Donations are crucial
Unlike many area pantries, Tosa Cares, which distributes food seven times a year, does not receive food or supplies from outside groups like Second Harvest or the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee. Instead, the nonprofit organization relies on an annual Community Development Block Grant funds from the city and the rest comes from donations.
The pantry has had to delve into its monetary donations to help buy nonperishable food. The money typically would be used to purchase fresh produce, meat and eggs so families have a balanced diet.
The empty shelves are not a sign that Wauwatosa residents have not been helping out, however. Local churches, civic groups, schools and businesses have chipped in by holding drives for food as well as school supplies, holiday baskets, winter clothes and children's books for summer reading. But more help is needed to meet the growing requests for assistance.
Creative solutions encouraged
The Ertels are urging community groups to get creative in how they approach collections. Perhaps school classes want to challenge each other to see who can donate the most mittens and gloves; a neighborhood association could hold a rummage to raise money; or a child who already has a lot of toys could ask birthday party guests to bring stuffed animals for the pantry.
"So many different groups can participate. There are lots of ways they can help with collections," Linda Ertel said. "We want to be able to supply these families with a generous amount of assistance."
First Congregational Church, for example, came up with the idea of donating gently used jeans, a staple of any person's wardrobe.
In October, Tosa Cares will be soliciting donations of warm winter clothes: coats, sweaters, boots, hats, gloves and scarves.
There is also a need for additional volunteers to sort, pack and distribute food items. Individuals are welcome, but the task would serve as a good community-service project for school and civic groups and scout troops, Linda Ertel said.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Tosa Cares food pantry
WHEN: By appointment
WHERE: Mount Zion Church, 12012 W. North Ave.
CONTACT: (414) 258-0456 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT TO GIVE
The following is a list of items for which the Tosa Cares pantry is always in need:
• Nonperishable fruits, vegetables and juices
• Peanut butter and jelly
• Spaghetti sauces and noodles
• Pastas and rice
• Canned protein, such as chicken, tuna and beef stew
• Snacks such as granola bars, crackers, popcorn and cookies
• Packaged dinners, especially those with meat
• Hearty soups
• Toilet paper, paper towels and tissues
• Personal care products such as shampoo, hand soap, lotion and toothbrushes and pastes
• Dish soap and laundry detergent
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