Food pantries say recently unemployed Wisconsinites visiting pantries for the first time in their lives

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- With rising unemployment numbers also comes rising food insecurity.

Some recently unemployed people are having to visit food pantries for the first time in their lives. But local food pantries want them to know that's OK, and there are also options available from the privacy of their homes.

"There's always going to be a stigma the first time you have to ask for help. It's hard to do, but it's OK to ask for help, and it's important to get the help if you need it," said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force.

The Hunger Task Force is still open and serving its food pantry network. They also continue to distribute stock boxes to seniors.

"I appreciate it. I appreciate every bit of it," said Julia Cooper-Felts, who picked up her box Thursday.

Overall, there's about a 60 percent increase in demand for the Hunger Task Force's services, according to Tussler.

"We started out March with being able to give very generous supplies of food to people at food pantries and by the end of March saying, 'Oh, here's two or three days' worth of food,'" Tussler said.

Pantries' curbside and drive-through options create social distancing, but they also can add an extra layer of privacy.

"I think it helps for folks who've never needed a food pantry before. They can stay in their car, show us their ID through the window and feel safe," said Heidi Gould, director of the Jewish Community Pantry.

Gould said the Jewish Community Pantry was extremely busy six weeks ago, but their numbers are steadier now. However, layoffs and furloughs are affecting who they're seeing visit the pantry.

"We are seeing some families that we've never seen before," Gould said.

Gould and Tussler encourage anyone recently laid off and in need of food to apply for FoodShare benefits. The state has increased distribution to twice a month.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that Wisconsin is approved for Pandemic-EBT, a program that will provide additional aid for food to low-income families with school-aged children statewide during the pandemic.

Eligible families currently receiving FoodShare will receive Pandemic EBT benefits directly on their Quest card. They don’t need to apply, according to the Hunger Task Force.

The Hunger Task Force also created an interactive map that shows confirmed sites where adults and children can get food.

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