By JENNIFER DU PUIS
Low-income families and individuals struggled in the community for years and still are subjected to the anxiety of scarce, basic living needs.
Besides unease from stretching the dollar, low-income families and individuals also deal with the humiliation of using low-income services as well. These frets and timid perceptions originate from the stigma that the services, such as soup kitchens or clothing closets, are for “only poor people”. In modern America diction, many connote that the word “poor” associates with the words “soiled”, “idle” and “irresponsible”. However, just consuming one type of service can allow people to save money for other bills or needs.
“The experience of shame varies in its effect on a person’s dignity. It can mean a slight embarrassment, a temporary loss of regard, or the more fixed state of stigma. Being stigmatized sets an individual apart from others, whether for merit or failure. Polluting aspects of stigma can be deeply discrediting to a person’s social identity,” Mary Theresa Howard, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Ohio Wesleyan University, said.
These conditions low-income families and individuals face combine can make life not so simple to live. Many invites to interviews and photographs with and of creditable people were turned down due to personal shame.
“Admitting that you are penniless is stigmatizing,” Christina Jones, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Communications Professor said.
In Walworth County, there are many thin, unclear options spread across numerous miles. The families and individuals, who can hardly afford to travel, find themselves in a pressing situation to attain the basic necessities of life. Unfortunately, day-by-day, the options are weakening and limited.
Furthermore, low-income persons are becoming even more vulnerable because of their dire dependence on dwindling nutrition, clothing, health care, and housing possibilities.
Food and Nutrition
Due to the recent change in food stamp laws, adults ages 18-49 are now required to work for their food stamp privileges. This began April 1, 2015 forcing FoodShare participants in Walworth County and all of America to either work 80 hours per month, work at an allowable work programs such as Wisconsin Works (W-2) or others under the Workforce Investment Act, work a separate job and participate in an allowable work program for a combined 80 hours per month, or participate in the Workforce Program in order to receive food stamps. In exchange, these participants will receive 90 days of food in a three-year period. The aid has been reduced so significantly that some participants will stop relying on FoodShare as a source.
According to Jones, who researches intercommunication in food pantries, because of the changes in the FoodShare operations, more community members are relying on food pantries and soup kitchens. This will cause an influx of clients that the Walworth County food pantries and soup kitchens may not be able to service.
“There will be an increase in negative behavior such as bartering or stealing to get resources or they will go hungry,” Jones said.
According to the Food Research and Action Center 2014 report of “How
Hungry is America”, 17.2 percent (Food Hardship Rate) of America’s population reported that they did not have enough money to buy food at some point in the past 12 months. Wisconsin’s Food Hardship Rate was 12.4 percent, or 46 out of 51 states, with Mississippi at number one.
Furthermore, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in January 2015, 14.4%, or 399,861 people, in Wisconsin receives FoodShare and are at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The FPL is a measure of income level issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services and are used to determine eligibility for certain programs and benefits (HealthCare.gov). Currently, the FPL ranges from $11,770 for individuals to $40,890 for a family of eight.
Finally, according to the Hunger Task Force’s March 2015 study, the minimum cost to feed a family of four per week is $131. FoodShare’s average monthly benefit per client is about $109.43- less than a week’s minimum. If low-income families are approved for FoodShare, then how will a Walworth County citizen still feed themselves and their family for the rest of the month?
The answer is local food pantries. Soup kitchens, free breakfast or lunch at schools for children, and emergency food programs are also offered occasionally.
Walworth County only provides food pantries in eight of the 24 cities and with the change in the food stamp law; many food pantries have begun running out of grocery to aid in feeding the clients. According to Jones, pantries will need help to help their clients and this can only be done well through private donors.
“Food drives are not the answer, (pantries) need to create relationships with private donors- they can get more pound per dollar with private donor than individual donors. Wine and dines with corporations are wildly successful,” Jones said.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program is a federal program that provides meals through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services.
(Scroll down for a listing of food pantries and emergency food contacts in Walworth County)
According to Jones, one should keep an open mind as to how they think of the low-income culture. The traditional perspective is that the clients at food banks are severely in need or homeless.
Though clothing becomes a life-threatening necessity in the winter, having a source of clothing in the community offers poverty-stricken or underprivileged citizens relief and joy. Clothing closets offer free, quality used clothing to anyone, without having to qualify.
In Walworth County, the Walworth County Community Clothes Closet, the only free closet in the area, is located in Whitewater at the Congregational United Church of Christ. The Community Clothes Closet is open every first and third Saturday of each month.
“I think that the fact that they are able to get clothes from us means that they have money for the essentials,” Kay Robers, director of the Community Clothes Closet said.
The Community Clothes Closet began 12 years ago with one room and table to store supplies. Since then, the pastor had allowed the operation to expand to four rooms with two hallways filled with tables and a toy room for families with young children. It all started with a high school janitor, Art Hughes, who saw that kids were in need of winter coats. Now, the Community Clothes Closet serves 70 to 100 clients each opening, according to Pat Miller of Whitewater who has been a volunteer for the operation for seven years.
“It’s amazing what they do. I don’t have to worry about buying food as much because I save money here,” Cailee Momtalto, 24 years old and a mother of a 4 and 2-year-old said.
Momtalto is a client at the Community Clothes Closet and a stay at home mom who is currently searching for a job. The father of the children left and hardly contributes around the house. She alluded to the fact that the Community Clothing Closet is a necessary service in Walworth County that she uses frequently. Momtalto sees a lot of her friends with money-tight problems.
“Word gets around about the help, and it works,” Momtalto said.
Another option near a few Walworth County cities is the Saint Vincent De Paul Society at 1525 Summit Drive in Fort Atkinson. They give and sell clothing and other items for low to no cost. The society is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Depending on insurance plans, or the lack of, Walworth County has few possibilities for low-income health aids. The closest health center that serves many low-income patients is the Community Health Systems of Wisconsin-Janesville at 849 Kellogg Ave. They offer primary health care, family planning, mental health services, etc. However they do not except Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program- both popular insurance programs for low-income persons.
Because of the Affordable Care Act that was approved in March 2010,
Community Health Systems of Wisconsin Executive Officer Richard Perry predicted that the clinics would see a 30% increase in clientele (“Community Health Center is Bankrupt, reorganizing” by Clint Wolf for the Beloit Daily News).
Community Health Systems of Beloit facilitated the development of a Walworth County community dentistry that opened December 2013 with two dentists and open for two days a week for patients with Medicaid and other forms of insurance. The clinic is at N. 2270 Highway 67 in Walworth. The office was held in a two-bedroom apartment using the bedrooms as operating rooms and the living room as a waiting room. Basically the dentistry provided simple check ups- not orthodontics.
Coincidently, just over a year ago on March 31, 2014 Community Health Systems, Inc. filed for bankruptcy after opening the dentistry. The organization had a deficit of about $1 million however still opted to never turn down clients.
Again, there aren’t many options for emergency housing in Walworth County. The closest emergency housing is in Janesville at the Salvation Army at 2826 Milton Ave. This organization also offers transitional housing. Another service provider in Janesville is the YWCA Rock County at 1735 S. Washington St. This organization focuses on women’s needs and hosts a variety of programs including YWCA Permanent Housing for those in transition of finding jobs as well as the YWCA CARE House- which is for children who have been physically or sexually abused or neglected.
“We are all in this together”, Robers said.
College or high school students can sign up at dosomething.org, which influences young people to volunteer in their community and share their experience helping others through social media. Dosomething.org allows young people to host their own event or volunteer at events already undergoing.
Walworth County Food Pantries and The Emergency Food Assistance Program
(Contact information provided for The Emergency Food Assistance Program)
Whitewater- The Whitewater Food Pantry at Richmond United Methodist Church, 146 W. North St., 2 to 4 p.m. Friday and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday or on emergency call, contact Marilyn Kienbaum- (262) 473-0524 or (262) 473-6120
Delavan – The Harold Johnson Food Pantry at St. Andrew Catholic Church, 714 W. Walworth Ave., 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday or on emergency call, contact Robert Drefs, 728-6567
Walworth – The Big Foot Emergency Food Pantry (covers Walworth, Fontana, Williams Bay and part of the Linn Township including Reek School), 111 Fremont St., 2 to 4 p.m. Friday and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday and on emergency call, contact Jack Meredith, 275-3252
East Troy – the East Troy Food Pantry, 2861 Austin St., 7:30 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and on emergency call, contact Delane Campa, (262) 642-4357
Elkhorn – Elkhorn Food Pantry, 14 W. Geneva St., 9 to 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, contact Betty Felten, 723-6359
Lake Geneva – the Lake Geneva Food Pantry at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 715 Wisconsin St., 9 to 11:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, contact Jean Benedict, 248-2337
Walworth County Resource Center (covers Town of Geneva) 3252 County Highway H, 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; contact Jim Drescher, (262) 348-0600
Sharon – The Sharon Food Pantry, 125 Pearl St., 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday and on call; contact Donna Brooke, (262) 736-9286
Twin Lakes Area Food Pantry, Inc. (In Kenosha County, covers Genoa City), St. John’s Catholic Church, 701 N Lake Ave., Twin Lakes, WI 53181, 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Wednesday and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month; Call (262) 877-8228