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WAFER Mobile Food Pantry vandalized, organization frustrated with consistent vehicle tampering



A La Crosse County food pantry trying to help families in need faced a costly hurdle when its mobile pantry was vandalized.

WAFER Food Pantry said someone cut the catalytic converter out of its mobile pantry. Erin Waldhart, executive director for WAFER, said the highly-used vehicle has six different stops on its route this week alone.

“So there’s little time and very tight time for us to perform any regular maintenance on it or needed repairs,” Waldhart said. “We needed to get it on the road and not miss any of our sites.”

What is most disappointing for Waldhart is that there has been consistent tampering with their vehicles. She said this is the second incident for the mobile food pantry in the past couple of months.

“It is frustrating that we have to continually deal with putting our efforts into cleaning up other people’s issues when they come here and vandalize,” Waldhart said.

The pantry currently does not know who has been damaging their vehicles. The latest incident will cost more than $2,000 in damage.

“We don’t really know the extent of it yet as the generator on that vehicle is not working right now,” she said. “We’ve been working with a local shop to get it fixed.”

The mobile pantry vehicle operates like a regular building with wiring on the inside and outlets for running coolers and freezers when on routes.

While many pantries mostly offer non-perishable items, WAFER Food Pantry extends offerings to the coulee region with fresh produce, dairy, and frozen meat. WAFER serves nearly 1,500 families a month, most of which live in La Crosse County.

“We are more than just a food pantry,” Waldhart said. “It’s more than just providing food to people. We have vehicles that we have to maintain and repair, and a facility. It’s not just a bag of groceries. It takes a lot to make this organization as impactful as it is.”

Waldhart said the organization continuously accepts volunteers who wish to help with their efforts as well as food, service, or monetary donations. They typically rely on 1,000 man-hours a month for service, but the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the volunteer force.

With regard to their current situation, Waldhart asked residents to stand up for their own community.

“When you see something, say something to somebody. Report it,” she said. “Not just for us, but when you see something in your community that’s not right, you need to report it. Be kind to others. Maybe if we’re kind to others, there will be a ripple effect of kindness.”

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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