Billy takes pride in his job.
“Over here we stack the canned goods, on this side the cereal, rice and other boxed food.”
Four days a week Billy works at the United Way-funded Emergency Food Pantry at Silver Spring Neighborhood Center on Milwaukee’s north side.
As soon as the glass doors swing open, Billy is eager to greet those who anxiously wait in the long line to receive food. Billy recognizes a lot of friends and neighbors.
The kids in line with their families also recognize Billy and say hi. “I’m the guy with the freeze pops in the summer,” said Billy. “I love giving special treats to the kids.” While Billy seems like a natural at his job, how he found it may surprise you. Billy’s first time visiting the pantry was to receive his own supply of food, but he left with much more than that.
While waiting in line, Billy saw a pantry worker struggling to move some boxes. “I asked her do you need some help? She said sure, when can you start?” he recalls with a smile.
That was five years ago. Today Billy is one of the pantry’s most cherished and dedicated volunteer. He is grateful the pantry was there for him when he was laid off from his job.
The center’s emergency food pantry program has been serving seniors like Billy as well as many families on the north side for over 30 years. Last year alone, they served 3,000 people and that number is expected to be even higher in 2016.
“It’s astonishing to see the number of people who walk through those doors; we’ve had 84 families just in the last month,” said Anthony McHenry, former Executive Director of Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. “That says a lot.”
McHenry says the agency is so grateful to have the support of United Way for the last two decades. “It is a critical need for our community today as it was 30 years ago. Thanks to United Way we don’t have to turn anyone away,” said McHenry.
From 2014-2015, 80% of participants who benefitted from United Way emergency food pantry programs stated they were able to use their money towards other areas of their budget because of the help they received, and 87% felt their families 3-5 day food needs were met.
“Over 980 children, 660 seniors, and 98 veterans walked through the doors of Silver Spring Neighborhood Center’s food bank last year,” said Krystina Kohler, Financial Stability Portfolio Coordinator at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. “This is just one of the nine food pantries & meal programs United Way’s Community Fund invests in.”
Because of United Way, program partners are able to employ program staff, purchase food, use unique software to track and analyze their community impact. These partners are connected to a network of experts in their field, are advertised to donors that may be familiar with their center, and can secure additional funding and partnerships by leveraging United Way support.
As for Billy, the pantry has filled his heart as well as his stomach.
“I love coming here,” he said. “I’m so happy I can get to help others who may need it too.”
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