'People have got to eat': Feeding America volunteers keep pantry network operation running

NOW: ’People have got to eat’: Feeding America volunteers keep pantry network operation running

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- We are entering the time of year when local food banks see the need for meals in our community increase.

There's always a high demand around the holidays -- and Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is working to meet that need.

So, CBS 58 wanted to shine a spotlight on the dedicated volunteers who make it possible to feed so many hometown families.

John Rudolph is something of a produce perfectionist.

"Cabbage keeps, lettuce doesn't keep," he said, looking through bags of produce. 

As a volunteer at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, it's his job to make sure all of these fruits and veggies are good to go.

"So, sorting produce that comes in from grocery stores, from farms and things like that," he explained.

He does it two or three days a week -- inspired to start during the pandemic.

"I think it's time I started paying a little dues myself, and it's been great! I thoroughly enjoy it," he said of the volunteer experience.

Enjoying the work -- and Feeding America's mission.

"And their mission here, is to get as much out to local folks particularly, as they can. And everyone here works very hard, on a daily basis," Rudolph said.

"A couple times a week, do something helpful," said Lois Mytas, as she scanned in all kinds of grocery items.

Mytas had a similar motivation to Rudolph when she started volunteering, after years of making financial donations.

"When Covid hit, I thought, you have to do it. You have to go in. People have got to eat. People are going to be out of work," she said.

Mytas keeps track of what's coming into the warehouse.

"We check it in, scan it in, and box it up to come over to the Feeding America side, where it's processed, where it's sorted and distributed to the food pantries," she explained.

The work is especially important to her.

"I'm a gardener, and I'm a recycler. So, I thought this was a very good, very admirable organization," she said.

It's hundreds of volunteers like Lois and John that help keep the massive operation running.

"Volunteers are really vital to our daily operations," said Erika Eykmans, Feeding America's Volunteer Program Manager.

As many as 100 volunteers can work in here at one time.

"We could not do it without them. They're all such amazing people and have such big hearts," Eykmans said.

And Feeding America is entering one of the busiest times of the year.

"The need always increases around the holidays. We get a lot more product donated. We also just have a lot more local community need, asking for bigger meals, like Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas dinners. All of that," Eykmans said.

So, more volunteers are always needed.

"We get a lot of just individual volunteers come in, we get a lot of corporate groups, as well," Eykmans said.

"Anybody who's looking for a great place to volunteer, this would be it," Rudolph said.

Volunteers pack boxes of food for a network of 400 local food pantries, programs and meal sites in 35 Wisconsin counties.

John and Lois are both happy to be making a difference they can see.

"I feel like I'm contributing. I'm doing something good and people are going to appreciate it," Mytas said.

"It just makes me feel good. It makes me so grateful that I can help, and it makes me feel so good that I can see actually some of the results going out to people," Rudolph said.

CBS 58 is teaming up with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin on Friday, Sept. 30th for the Hometown Hunger Fund Drive. All day, during every newscast, you'll have the opportunity to donate and help feed hungry families in our Hometowns. For more information, visit Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.

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