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La Crosse’s WAFER Food Pantry sees struggle within community and beyond — welcomes those in need to reach out for help

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Signs that people are struggling, people need help, can be seen.

You just have to know where to look.

One of those places is at the WAFER Food Pantry in La Crosse. In her nine years at WAFER, executive director Erin Waldhart can see how things have changed in the last year and a half.

“When I look back at our stats, we were maybe averaging 10 to 15 families that would need that extra assistance during the month,” Waldhart said. “Last month, I think we had over 200.”

Being with WAFER that long, Waldhart has seen struggles resurface because of the pandemic’s impact on faces she hasn’t seen in years — and the complete opposite. Waldhart seeing faces she’s never seen.

“What we saw is families that hadn’t needed us for quite a while — so four to even 10 years, they hadn’t used our services,” Waldhart said Thursday on La Crosse Talk PM. “Another change was, all of a sudden people found themselves in a position that they hadn’t been in before, asking for help. 

From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, WAFER is doing its monthly “Food Fair,” though it’s happening a week early because of the holidays and it’s got more than just food. 

“I was approached by Feed the Children out of Oklahoma,” Waldhart said. “It’s an international anti-hunger organization. And they asked if we’d be willing to accept a semi-truck of product.

“So, we are super excited for all of that news for our community.”

Along with food for anyone who needs it, there will be personal care items, home essentials and, if you are struggling to get something to wrap, there will also be toys and books.

While most people may know WAFER as a place where those in need can go and get food, Waldhart says they do a lot of other things she hopes the community can take advantage of, including nutrition education, a mobile unit that hits 18 different sites throughout La Crosse County and has a delivery program for seniors.

Waldhart said some people are apprehensive about getting help. Call it pride. But she said people should think of their position a little differently. Basically, she says that, if what WAFER can provide will help you, then you’re more than welcome to accept that help. 

She also pointed out a particular community struggling, that WAFER is having a hard time helping.

“The rural areas are particularly difficult,” Waldhart said. “If you don’t have transportation, you can’t get to us, you can’t get to our mobile pantry site, you can’t get to a grocery store. So the rural areas are struggling with different needs, than maybe somebody that lives within the city of La Crosse.”

Waldhart hopes the word gets out to those in rural areas that WAFER is, not just “here” to help, but will try and get “there,” if possible.  The best thing to do is simply contact them and work out a plan.

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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