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La Crosse community donates over 15,000 pounds of food at first of 7 Food Drive Fridays



Volunteers load up the flatbed at Valley View Mall in Onalaska, Wis., on April 17, 2020, for the first of seven Food Drive Fridays. (Rick Solem)

The cars were lined up around the parking lots waiting to give. It was like that for the entire two hours.

The La Crosse community rallied Friday to restock the area’s food pantries. Over 15,000 pounds of food was donated, along with plenty of cash.

There were just two problems with the first-ever Food Drive Fridays, which run Fridays through May. One: There weren’t enough trucks to load up all the food.

“We had the flatbed and, in addition to that, we filled seven pickup trucks and three minivans,” Rotary Lights executive director Pat Stephens said. “We even sent a couple trucks back to the Hunger Task Force to unload and return.”

Hunger Task Force of La Crosse executive director Shelly Fortner will take those kinds of problems.

“The thing about drives like this, you have these great expectations but you’re not really sure how it’s all going to come together,” Fortner said. “Then it comes together and it’s way more than you expected, so now you’re scrambling for more volunteers and more vehicles. And, hey, that’s a good problem to have.”

The second problem: Too much food?

“We have all this food, but now, how are we going to get all this food sorted before the next Friday comes in?” Fortner said. “Another good problem to have.”

The Hunger Task Force of La Crosse food bank restocks over 70 food pantries and helps with 118 programs like meal sites and youth programs, in five counties. It also will give to any other pantry that needs help in the area because the next closest food banks are in Rochester, Minn., and Madison.

In a normal year, a regular food drive — not like Stephens’ Rotary Lights campaign from Thanksgiving to New Years Eve — brings in between 3,000-5,000 pounds of food. Fortner said they do about 10-15 of those a year. Then she started to do the math on 15,000 pounds of food as compared to their regular drives.

“Wow, it was five times as good as the average food drive,” Fortner said, coming to that realization.

Three locations brought in food — and will continue to do so through May — from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Valley View Mall, Big Lots and the downtown Law Enforcement Center parking lots.

On top of all the food to sort, Fortner added they should have no problem hitting the mark an anonymous donor offered. That donor will match up to $25,000.

When Fortner first got that call, she was ecstatic to say the least.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you,” she said. “I would have probably jumped up and down if I wasn’t sitting at my desk.

“Those are the kinds of things that you’re just not expecting. And when they happen, and you’re so worried about how you’re going to get by. They just seem to happen at those moments and it’s just such a blessing. I’m still jumping from that one.”

For those who wish to donate with cash to help hit that $25,000 total, click here. Otherwise, stop by one of the three locations from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Friday. Fortner said what usually flies off pantry shelves are soup, cereal, peanut butter and tuna.


o Onalaska area: Valley View Mall parking lot (by former Macy’s location): 3800 Hwy 16,
La Crosse, WI (MAP)
o Downtown La Crosse: La Crosse County parking lot behind the Courthouse & Law
Enforcement Center: 333 Vine St, La Crosse, WI (MAP)
o South side La Crosse: Big Lots parking lot: 3960 Mormon Coulee Rd, La Crosse, WI (MAP)

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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