Use of new mobile food pantry soars in Iron CountySubmitted: 01/27/2015
HURLEY - Cars in line wrap around block after block on the snowy streets of Hurley.

"Well, I got here at 11:15, and now I'm through the line, and it's 1:30," says Cindy Brannigan. "But it's worth it."

She calls this time of each month, the last week, "the hard time" for many families in the area.

The next paycheck or Social Security check is a week away.

Sometimes, the food supply at home is almost gone.

But on the last Monday of each month, Cindy picks up food for her family and six other families at a Mobile Food Pantry in Hurley.

"Rain, show, shine, sleet " we're here. People really appreciate it," says Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank Program Director Kris Horman, whose food bank is based in Duluth.

When the food bank started the Mobile Food Pantry about a year ago, it served roughly 120 people in Iron County.

Now, more than 250 households and 500 people benefit from the service.

It's needed.

"We saw a need in Iron County based on poverty level, needs, and access to food because it's more rural," Horman says.

While snaking through the line in their cars, people touch base with a few employees, who are dressed in silly banana costumes to give the day a light touch.

At the head of the line, the car is stocked, and families are set on food, at least for a little while.

It's about the equivalent of three bags of groceries.

The banana costumes are intentional.

"It's an issue of dignity, of pride. No one wants to be in the situation where they have to ask for food," says Joy Schelble, a nutrition education with the Iron County UW-Extension. "There are a lot of positive messages. I mean, who can frown on two ladies in a banana suit?"

For people like Cindy, that attitude is important, just like the food she gets.

"It's all about the volunteers. They're awesome. They rock," she says.

"Lots of smiles, a little silliness, and they're on their way," says Schelble.

Hurley's mobile food pantry is one of just a few operating in northern Wisconsin.

With its popularity, the idea might spread to more areas of the rural Northwoods.

Story By: Ben Meyer

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