The demand for food donations continues to rise for hundreds of hungry families in Rock County, and at least one program working to help those struggling families desperately needs the public's help.
The Janesville School District's 21 schools are collecting money for the annual Bags of Hope program. But with eight days to go, the district said it's thousands of dollars short of its fundraising goal.
For the past four years, the Janesville School District has been identifying struggling families through the Bags of Hope program.
The district buys two weeks' worth of groceries for hundreds of families. Volunteers pack up the groceries and deliver them so families have something to eat during winter break.
"We know that our poverty rate is over 50 percent, and that's the highest it's ever been," said Karen Schulte, Janesville School District superintendent. We have kids in poverty that don't get three meals a day when they're not in school."
Schulte said donations made the program a reality. So far, the district has raised nearly $14,000 but is well short of its $40,000 goal.
"However much we get we'll divide up and give to families," Schulte said.
The group ECHO helps more than 3,300 families each year in the Janesville area. Families are allowed to come once a month and receive a week's worth of groceries.
"Our services are probably up around 20 percent," said Cheryl Maveety, a client advocate at ECHO. "They may be eating peanut butter all week because there's nothing else in the house hold. I had one family today tell me they were eating bread, bread and water; that's all they had to feed their family."
The school district and ECHO said many families continue to struggle to put food on their table because the economy hasn't fully recovered.
"We're seeing a lot of the middle-class people who were making it on their own now coming in for services along with those below the poverty line," Maveety said.
"If the poverty rate is going up, we know people are working jobs that aren't providing a livable income," Schulte said.
Students are doing their part to help the hungry. For example, students at Craig High School are selling T-shirts and raffle tickets.
The Bags of Hope program is an extension of an annual food drive once sponsored by General Motors. The school district's drive began in 2009 following the shutdown of the Janesville General Motors plant in 2008.
The food drive will accept cash or checks only through Nov. 28. Checks may be made out to the "School District of Janesville" or "Delivering Bags of Hope" and delivered to any school office or the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St., Janesville, WI 53548, care of Denise Jensen. Receipts will be given so contributors may claim donations on their taxes.
People can call 608-743-5055 with questions about the program or go to this website for more information.
Maveety said ECHO's Christmas toy drive and transportation program could use help. People who want to help can call ECHO at 608-754-5333.