A mother's story, "I can say I never thought I'd be shopping at a food pantry"

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) "I'm a mom," said Jenny. "And part of my responsibility is to feed my family and myself."

"I'm a mom. And part of my responsibility is to feed my family and myself." Jenny, a mom of two, shares her story about how she was fighting an addiction, fighting to keep her job, and fighting to feed her family.

Parents would agree, feeding their children is among their top priorities. While that may seem like an easy task, there are too many families struggling with this basic necessity of life.

Jenny is a mom of two growing boys in Middleton. She said she didn't realize what a luxury it was to go grocery shopping, until one day she didn't have the money for it.

"I can say I never thought I'd be shopping at a food pantry," said Jenny.

It's a story heard far too often. Every year, Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin meets nearly one million requests for service each year. These are people who may have become ill, lost a job, or met an unforeseen expense that demanded their money. As those at Second Harvest put it: "Hunger knows no race, gender, age, job status or education level."

Jenny noticed that right away on her first visit to the pantry nearly 6 years ago. It was a time in her life when she was fighting an addiction, fighting to keep a job, and fighting to put food on the table for her children.

"When I walked into the pantry, the people I saw there looked just like me," said Jenny. They were moms. They were people who worked, but just need that little extra to make up for the lack of funds. There is nothing wrong with that."

Second Harvest reports that 57% of the households it serves has someone working at least 30 hours per week. Sixty-one percent of households served have an income under $20,000 per year.

While Jenny doesn't visit the pantries regularly, she does rely on them to make ends meet when she feels the pinch. Inside Jenny's kitchen, she showed some of the items she recently picked up: sweet peas, sloppy joe mix and tomato soup. Before those cans ever got to Jenny's cupboard, the journey started at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.

"Everything you see in yellow here [on the map] is every county we go into," said John Ozga.

He's been driving a semi for Second Harvest for the last 6 years. Ozga and 7 other drivers load up eight semis with 22 pallets. It's done five days a week. The food on those pallets then stock the shelves at more than 200 pantries in 16 counties.

Each semi carries about 30,000 pounds of food. Kris Tazelaar, the communications manager for Second Harvest, said when they look at the donated food, they try to break it down to a common denominator and that's "meals."

"It's really a national figure that says a meal equals 1.2 pounds," said Tazelaar.

So one semi load of food weighing 30,000 pounds equals about 25,000 meals.

In his six years of dropping off deliveries to the partner agencies of Second Harvest, Ozga has seen the goal of food go from 9 million pounds of food to 15 million pounds of food raised this year.

Ozga said when he makes the weekly deliveries, he just hopes everyone gets what they want and need. "When we send out eight trucks and they are full, I don't know, sometimes going home I don't know if that is enough."

Jenny said she's grateful that Second Harvest provides so many options to the local pantries.

"When you don't have to worry about food insecurities you have the kind of energy to focus on some of the other areas of your life that you might want to improve upon," said Jenny. "Because if you are hungry, you are thinking about your hunger. And if you are not thinking about that, you have time for your family you have time for other areas of interest."

Donation to Share Your Holidays can be made here. Also, Wednesday, Dec. 5 is the NBC15 Share Your Holidays Grand Finale. In 2017, 4.18 million meals were raised for families in need. This year, the goal is just "One more meal." Donations made on Wednesday will be doubled all day and tripled during the "Mike Miracle Minute." That is named after NBC15's late anchor and Share Your Holidays founder, Mike McKinny. Every dollar that is donated will provide up to three meals.