As we have witnessed the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in our communities, many are wondering how to help neighbors as services they rely on may be canceled or curtailed.
Sherrie Tussler is the executive director of the Hunger Task Force, a food bank that provides 35,000-45,000 people with food. She says the Hunger Task Force and pantries play a vital role right now as tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus-related layoffs.
"Everyone who has lost their job recently or become unemployed for a temporary period of time ... should not only apply for their own employment, but they should apply for the food share program," says Tussler. The food share program is the USDA’s first line of defense against hunger and it provides residents with a debit card to buy food at the grocery store.
Even though they play an essential role during this time, Tussler says the public health crisis has had a drastic impact on the network that provides emergency food to people who need it.
"What has changed is that 11 of our 47 food pantries have closed because they don’t have the capacity to serve the number of people that are visiting them or they don’t have the sanitation supplies," she explains.
The map below shows locations of public emergency food distributions in Milwaukee. It is updated daily at 5 p.m., according to the Hunger Task Force website.
Tussler is asking for community contributions — but not to donate food. That's because the coronavirus can stay alive on cans, according to Tussler, spreading it from one person to another.
So instead of food, she's asking for donations of another hot commodity: hand sanitizer. Emergency food providers can continue to package and distribute food if employees can remain healthy. Don’t have hand sanitizer? Well, there are other ways that residents can support the organization, such as virtual food drives.
"The easiest thing to do is just go online and donate to us so that we make sure that if some supply becomes available, like hand sanitizer, that we buy it outright," Tussler says.
There may be empty shelves at the supermarket due to panic buying across the nation. But Tussler has found people in Wisconsin to be generous — and believes community members will always find a way to help.
During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.