According to the United Way ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed) Report, in 2014 roughly half the population of the city of Eau Claire fell below the ALICE Threshold, meaning they were either living below federal poverty levels or earned more than federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living for the county.1 Food insecurity is also increasing in Eau Claire County. In 2005, only about 5 percent of the population was receiving FoodShare, the Wisconsin food benefits program. By 2012, that percentage had risen to over 19 percent. Poverty and food insecurity are interrelated.
Poverty increases the risk of food insecurity and hunger. Food-secure households have enough safe and nutritious food for an active healthy life at all times. In contrast, food-insecure households have uncertain access to food. Due to lack of money, they may run out of food, cut back the size of meals, or skip meals altogether. Hunger and food insecurity, in turn, are linked to other problems. For children, these include poor health, and behavioral, learning, and academic problems. Impoverished adults often report choosing between medication, rent, heat, transportation, or food. Food-insecure seniors are more than twice as likely to report bad health as food-secure seniors.2
Local Food-Assistance Programs Offer Help
Through the cooperation of the area food bank, several local businesses, churches, and other groups of volunteers, one meal a day is served every day of the year, with no special screening or permission needed to have a meal at Community Table, 320 Putnam Street in Eau Claire. Each day about a dozen volunteers work three hours to prepare the meal for around 120 guests.3 The Community Table began in 1993. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the meal is served between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, a great meal is available between 5:00 and 6:15 pm. Sunday dinner is available between 3:00 and 4:00 pm.
Rachel Keniston has been concerned about food insecurity in Eau Claire, working at the Community Table since 2008, becoming its director in 2010, and recently retiring from it. “Food is one of our most basic needs, regardless of our financial situation,” she says.
However, Keniston noticed that as volunteer groups brought food to share in the early days of Community Table, some of the food was not as nutritious as it could be. The group then partnered with Target to use some of their past-date produce. She explains: “At the Community Table we were able to partner with several local businesses who donated fresh produce when it was past its shelf life but still good. Vegetables are now a component in many tasty dishes served to guests.”
Feed My People Food Pantry
Another local hunger-relief program is Feed My People (FMP)Food Bank, operating since 1982. FMP links food producers and suppliers with individuals and families who are food insecure. At this time FMP is the only food bank in this part of the state, supplying food to over 125 organizations in fourteen counties. In those fourteen counties, “69,950 people live in poverty according to 2010 Poverty and Population estimates from the US Census Bureau. This is a 76 percent increase from data recorded in the 2000 census.”4 The food bank is especially helpful to those who may not qualify for government food assistance but still need help with obtaining food. One at-risk group is young children. “According to U.S. Census Bureau, one in five children in west central Wisconsin experience food insecurity. Many struggle with hunger when school meals are not available.5 Another high-risk group is seniors. “Among food pantry clients 65 and older, more than half reported visiting a pantry on a monthly basis, the highest of any age group.”6 Visit www.fmpfoodbank.org/get_help.phtml to find the food bank location closest to you and its hours, or call 2-1-1. You can call ahead for help with completing your application (Contact Tami at 715-835-9415 ext. 106 or Christine at 715-835-9415 ext. 108.), or you can enroll when you stop in during operating hours.
FoodShare and Market Match Token Program at Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market
FoodShare Wisconsin is a government program to help those who are food insecure and to improve nutrition and health. People with limited income who qualify for FoodShare are then able to buy the food they need for good health. “They are people of all ages who have a job but have low incomes, are living on small or fixed income, have lost their job, retired or are disabled and not able to work.”7 To learn more about FoodShare Wisconsin and how to apply go to access.wi.gov, where you can fill out an online application.
The Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market has been growing and thriving since 1994. Beginning in 2015, the market has been offering a program to further assist those on FoodShare have access to healthy local food. It’s called Market Match. As part of the program where market shoppers can buy tokens (with credit or debit cards) to then buy market goods, the Market Match program provides a“one-to-one match to farmers’ market patrons who use their FoodShare benefits at the farmers market, up to $10 per week. That means, when a farmers market patron spends $10 of their FoodShare benefit at the farmers market, they receive an extra $10, in the form of wooden tokens, to spend on fresh, local food at the market.”8 This program not only helps low-income shoppers, but also helps vendors to sell more. In 2015, 288 people used the Market Match program and $5,903 of matching funds were used to help families in need buy healthy food. To use the program, look for the table at the farmers market, an assistant will help you obtain Market Match tokens with your FoodShare card. Then you shop! If you don’t use them all on one visit, you can use them at a subsequent visit.This program is sponsored by several area businesses.