By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – According to Feeding America’s study, “The State of Aging Hunger in America in 2019,” an estimated 7.1 percent of seniors experience food insecurity – “a lack of consistent access to enough of food for each person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” Wisconsin’s levels fall slightly below that, at 4.7%.
Stockbox is a program to change that and provide healthy food every month to improve the diet and nutrition of low-income seniors.
“The program is important because it aims to improve the health of eligible people aged 60 and over by supplementing their diets with nutritious foods. As we age, eating well can have a positive effect on our health and how we feel. Healthy foods and beverages can boost our energy levels, improve digestion, and help prevent chronic disease. the stock box provides that and can help stretch food dollars and add nutritious foods to the diet for good health. The Stockbox covers the basics,” said Portage County Aging and Disability Resource Center nutrition program manager Kristi Cooley.
“Stockboxes are non-perishable foods chosen by the USDA to give seniors a nutritional boost. For me, the name Stockboxes is fitting because I consider it a boost for their pantry or shelf. variety may look different each month, but aim to have one type of: juice, cereal, canned/powdered milk, canned fruits and vegetables, canned meat, canned soup, peanut butter and rice, potatoes instant or pasta. And an amount of American cheese (cheese is the only perishable item,” said Erin Wells, community resource manager, Aging and Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin.
Nearly 37,000 Wisconsin seniors are eligible for the Stockbox program, but do not have access to it. Less than half of counties in the state distribute Stockboxes, but the Hunger Task Force is working to change that.
“We participated in the Stockboxes program in Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Antigo, Merrill, Tomahawk. A group of agencies in each location were contacted by Food Wise UW-Extension in Wood County. They had received information about the Stockboxes from the Hunger Task Force. We started talking as a group and thought this would be a great program to bring to the community,” Wells said.
“June 2021, a flyer was shared that talked about the Stockbox program,” Cooley recalled. “In the flyer, we learned that more than 1,200 Portage County seniors live in poverty and would be eligible.
“At that time a feasibility exploration meeting was arranged with: Elizabeth Beck, Health Planner – Community Health Portage County Health and Human Services, Kelly Hammond, UW- Extension Food Wise Nutrition Coordinator, Kate Giblin , Senior Center Manager, ADRC of Portage County and myself. We caught up with Bard Meirer, Advocacy Campaign Manager, Hunger Task Force.
“We had our first meeting on June 24, 2021 to determine what the next steps are. After the meeting, the decision was made to move forward. A planning meeting was held and Stockbox’s first day of broadcast was determined along with the frequency/location. Over the planning period, other partners have also been identified including: Central Rivers Farmshed, Curbwise and Stevens Point Housing Authority.
Marshfield Area Community Foundation Executive Director Stacey Schultz discovered the program in Wells and had funding for the program through a local donor who wanted to provide money for food insecurity.
“The fact that we gave the money to ADRC really helped us get started in Marshfield,” Schultz said.
“When we started meeting and talking about how we could get things done. I said there was a lot of community support, and I said maybe we could get them delivered from the community center because the CCRA serves lunch there every day.
Schultz added that the group next wanted to remove the stigma of accepting help by placing it in a more open environment.
“So Simplicity (CU) is going to be the host site…so, it’s kind of a neutral place,” she explained.
Schultz said that upon picking up food boxes, attendees can then sign up for the following month.
Anyone age 60 and older qualifies for the program with $1,473 or less for monthly income from a one-person household; $1,984 for a two-person household; and $512 for each additional person in the household.
“Each community offers the program a little differently, but most have some sort of pickup event. Those we are involved with all have one pickup day per month,” Wells added.
In the Wisconsin Rapids area, Stockboxes are distributed at SWEPS Food Pantry, 2321 W. Grand Ave., Wisconsin Rapids. Register by calling 211 or 877-947-2211. The next pickup date is May 17.
In the greater Marshfield area, distribution takes place at Simplicity Credit Union, 222 E. Upham St., Marshfield. Register by calling 211 or 877-947-2211. The next pickup date is May 17.
In Stevens Point, pick-up takes place at Portage County ADRC, 1519 Water St., Stevens Point. For more information, call 715-346-1401. The next pick-up day is May 16.