By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Every Friday, a group of volunteers gathers at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church in Elk Mound to pack between 80 and 100 Mounder Meals for the weekend.
“We have a great group of volunteers. We have people from three different churches that come in and help,” said Lisa Strom, coordinator for Mounder Meals.
The Mounder Meals program provides food for the weekend for students up to seventh grade in the Elk Mound school district who need it.
The Mounder Meals program is in its fifth year.
Volunteers from Barum Lutheran Church and Big Elk Creek Lutheran Church work with Shepherd of the Hill to administer the program.
“The worst weeks we’ve had, there’s been three of us. We really do appreciate our volunteers. It will take us 20 minutes with six to eight people (to fill the 80 to 100 bags). It will take over an hour with just three of us,” Strom said.
Along with Strom, Sue Suechting also coordinates the Mounder Meals program.
There are no income qualifications, and any family needing extra food to make it through the weekend can sign up for the program.
“On a typical week, it’s approximately 100 (Mounder Meals). Right now we’re at 80. The middle school does not have their orders in yet, so we’ll be growing. Typically we’ve averaged a hundred,” Strom said.
“Last year was the first year we were able to offer (Mounder Meals) at the middle school. But they also found that usually once students hit middle school level, they have a little more stigma with it. Maybe they get teased. They don’t have accessible backpacks,” she said.
“When we deliver them up at the school, the teachers put them in the backpacks. Because they have lockers at the middle school, they have to go pick them up in the office. Last year, we had 19 bags at the middle school, which was lower than I thought what we needed,” Strom said.
The students “get a form to take home, and the parents fill it out. It’s a totally free program,” she said.
Feed My People
The majority of the food for Mounder Meal comes through the Feed My People food bank out of Eau Claire.
The goal is to provide two breakfasts, two lunches and two snacks per day over the weekend, and the program is designed for four to nine year olds.
Strom said she strives to keep the bags of food at five pounds or less, considering the age of the children receiving the food.
When the volunteers have finished packing the bags at Shepherd of the Hill, the food is taken to Mound View Elementary where it is distributed to the appropriate teachers. The teachers place the food in the backpacks of the children while the youngsters are out of the room for lunch or at recess.
“We are primarily community supported, although we have gotten several grants. The Mounder Meals Match Challenge is our big fund raiser for the year. What we get from it really helps,” Strom said.
Feed My People is an economical way to obtain the food.
“Rather than buying this from the grocery store, it was 19 cents for the can (of carrots) through Feed My People. You’d pay 80 cents at the grocery store. Or 40 percent if they’re on sale. You get a 50 percent or 75 percent savings,” Strom said.
The budget for Mounder Meals is between $150 and $200 per week.
“We’ve done fairly well at staying within (the budget),” Strom said.
“I always try to pack so we have one extra, rather than not enough. The teacher will give (an extra) to one of the kids she knows really needs it,” she said.
Packing the Mounder Meal bags is not all work, though.
“We try to make it kind of a social interaction too. We’ll make coffee and have donuts,” Strom said.
Elk Mound does not have a community center, “so we try to make it our own little coffee and donut social when we’re finished packing, she said.
Shepherd of the Hill also has a food pantry that has operated out of the church for many years.
The food pantry is open 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays.
Approximately 20 families per month use the food pantry, said Faylene Howe, who has worked with the pantry for not quite as many years as there has been a food pantry at Shepherd of the Hill.
The food pantry has been associated with Feed My People for quite a while and benefits from “leftovers” from Ruby’s Pantry, she said.
Sometimes there is so much food that Shepherd of the Hill has been able to share with other food pantries, Howe noted.
Shepherd of the Hill gives vouchers for the local farmers’ market, and fresh produce often is available from Feed My People.
The Shepherd of the Hill food pantry is an area pantry and is not intended to only serve members at Shepherd of the Hill, Howe said.
Local organizations often will have food drives, as will various classes and organizations in the school district, and the post office also collects food.
“That is a big help,” Howe said.
“We have a big need for personal products, things people cannot buy with food stamps. Ruby’s Pantry supplies a lot of the paper products,” she said.
Personal care products on the food pantry grocery list include bar soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, tooth brushes, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and hand lotion.
“The only questions we ask are the ages and how many in the family, and that’s for recording purposes for Feed My People,” Howe explained.
The Shepherd of the Hill Food Pantry is intended to be used by clients once a month, “but we never turn anybody away … some come once a month, and some come oftener if they need it,” she said.
People can check off the items they need on the food pantry grocery list, which includes vegetables, beans, juice, soup, boxed meals, mixes, crackers, cereal and personal care items.
“We get lots of meat from Ruby’s Pantry, like chicken. We have a freezer where we can store it,” Howe said.
Howe said she understands how difficult it can be to feed a family.
“I have a large family. And right now, I’ve got two adult grandsons and a son that comes on the weekends. I had seven kids. A box of macaroni and cheese, one of them could have probably eaten that by themselves,” Howe said,
The food pantry has regular hours, but if there is an emergency, the pastor at Shepherd of the Hill will come and open the pantry.
Howe said she suspects that because Elk Mound is small community, there are people who have a need to use the food pantry but who do not come to the pantry.
“Sometimes if they’re elderly, they’re more proud. Or they are used to making do. Or they may think someone else needs it worse. We had an older gentleman who had someone come for him in the winter, and they also came for themselves. He ended up bringing back things because they had put down that they were two separate families, but he lived with them. He felt he should bring back items,” Howe said.
Use of the food pantry varies. On some days, no one comes, on other days, a couple of people come, and some days there is a steady number of clients coming to the pantry, Howe said.
Mounder Meals Match
The Mounder Meals Match Challenge is being run in conjunction with the Feed My People Food Bank.
From now until the end of the month, for every dollar donated, the Mounders Meals program will receive one pound of food free.
The bags weigh an average of four pounds.
A $5 donation typically purchases three bags of food. During the match challenge, $5 will provide four bags of food.
If you would like to donate to the Mounder Meals Match Challenge, checks can be made payable to Shepherd of Hill. In the memo line write “Mounder Meals Match Challenge.”
Send your check to Shepherd of the Hill; 207 University Street; Elk Mound WI 54739.
For more information about the Mounder Meals Match Challenge, you can contact Strom at 715-879-4033.