Jim Luther, 71, a member of Brookfield’s St. John Vianney Parish, is the volunteer director of what he considers “one of the few full-service pantries” in the area. Besides food, the St. Hyacinth Pantry – in the former parish school, a 125-year-old brick structure at 1414 W. Becher St. – offers clothing, hygiene products, nurses who dispense medical advice and the services of a Catholic Charities-provided social worker. Pantry personnel can also register patrons for FoodShare (food stamps).

“We try to care for the entire person,” Luther explained while walking a reporter through the pantry’s two floors recently.

3 parishes,
3 food pantries

“It helps a lot of people,” insisted Herman Anderson, a pantry client who was in the process of wheeling away his food allotment. Anderson mentioned his 8-year-old daughter, a “special needs” youngster unable to walk or talk. The pantry supplies bibs, fashioned from hand towels by volunteers, for the girl to wear at mealtimes.

Providing food (but not a meal program) is its “major charter,” according to the St. Hyacinth Pantry 2009 Annual Report, which notes that some 6,300 families were given food. A single-week record 222 families were accommodated last Thanksgiving week. Affiliated with Hunger Task Force (and a participant in Hunger Task Force’s new Stockbox food program for senior citizens), the pantry is open 4-6 p.m. Wednesdays to residents throughout the 53215 zip code and residents of the portion of the 53204 zip code south of Mitchell Street. In other words, said Luther, the pantry’s territory extends from approximately Greenfield Avenue to Morgan Avenue, and from 1st Street to 43rd Street.

A client is required to provide proof of residence, as well as identification, and is welcome to receive a 40- to 50-pound food allotment once a month. Clients may visit the pantry every other month for clothing and hygiene items.

Hunger Task Force is the St. Hyacinth pantry’s primary food supplier, providing 185,000 pounds in 2009. Meanwhile, “very generous people” at the West Allis Farmers Market donated 20,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables, according to Luther. To further furnish the food bank, additional vegetables and fruit, as well as dairy products, are purchased at favorable prices through the nonprofit agency Feeding America. A number of bakeries are donors, Luther said, and the pantry will soon expand its refrigeration space by several hundred square feet with the addition of a walk-in freezer once owned by Harley-Davidson Inc.

The freezer is assembled, but the motor in the compressor needs work before it will run. Luther said he’s taking bids on the assembly cost, estimated at $8,000, and hopes to have it done by the first of the year. p.5pantry-A-11-11-10 Ann Setterlun, a volunteer from St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point, and Carole Setterlun’s daughter, looks over paperwork and serves as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking clients at the food pantry at St. Hyacinth. More photos taken at the St. Hyacinth pantry can be viewed and purchased at http://photos.chnonline.org. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

Clothes for both genders can be had in all sizes – a service that began when a volunteer showed up one day with used coats. Bev Luther, the director’s wife and fellow volunteer who heads the pantry’s clothing division, pointed out that all the clothes are donated and include winter wear: coats, hats, gloves and mittens. Clients can also obtain blankets, towels, curtains, sheets and, sometimes, pillows.
“If we find a need, we try to fill it,” Bev Luther remarked.
That would explain the toys stored in the old school’s basement, which will serve as Christmas gifts.

In a room not far from the clothing bank, volunteers put together packets of hygiene supplies. There are toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, shampoo – items individuals can’t purchase with FoodShare. Mary Ann Sonnemann, a retired nurse and a parishioner of St. Anthony on the Lake, Pewaukee, oversees the hygiene area.
“I missed nursing so much when I retired” from hospital coronary and intensive care duties, Sonnemann told your Catholic Herald. But volunteerism has proven “very gratifying,” providing “more blessings than anyone can imagine. I get more from (the pantry patrons) than I can ever give them.”

In the hygiene area, which also caters to infant needs, Sonnemann and several others trained in nursing listen to clients’ concerns (not infrequently, they hear stories of abuse), provide referrals, do a perfunctory examination every now and then, pray with the clients at times (just as the volunteers pray as a group before the pantry opens each week) and respond affirmatively to the oft-heard request, “I need a hug today.”
It adds up to building the clients’ self-esteem, according to Sonnemann. She said she advises fellow volunteers to “look for Jesus in every single one” of the pantry patrons.

“The people are very grateful,” noted Angie Driscoll, also a retired nurse and member of St. Anthony on the Lake, working alongside Sonnemann. In the building’s sizable cellar, yet another St. Anthony parishioner, stockroom supervisor Kathy Waters, echoed Driscoll’s statement, labeling the patrons “very friendly and so very thankful.”

Speaking for the volunteers in general, Fred Bersch, Jim Luther’s associate director and a parishioner of Lumen Christi, Mequon, commented, “The striking thing we learned years ago is that we’re called to feed the hungry.” He added that the feeding – and clothing, etc. – “has been a collaborative effort” among several congregations: Lumen Christi; St. Anthony; St. John Vianney; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, New Berlin; St. Joseph, Wauwatosa; and St. Charles Borromeo and St. Stanislaus, both in Milwaukee.
“I feel called to help people who have very, very little,” said Mary Schelter, a volunteer intake worker from St. Anthony.

Volunteers have also come from Divine Savior Holy Angels, Marquette and Pius XI high schools, as well as from the ranks of pantry clients and former clients. Luciano Bautista, for example, has been a client at the pantry – and has helped out with some heavy lifting. Pantry personnel also are able to utilize the bilingual Bautista as a translator.