Filling Hungry Bellies: Monica Clare

 

Monica Clare has been managing the St. Joseph Food Program on Opportunity Way in Menasha for more than 10

years. While the Food Program has expanded to include outreach, Clare explains their first priority continues

to be feeding pantry clients.

 

Last year, St. Joseph Food Program served 3,250 families, representing nearly 9,000 individuals. Clare reveals one of St. Joe’s greatest contributions to the community is providing nutritious food to individuals and families struggling — providing food that not only fills stomachs, but also is nutritiously sound to avoid additional health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more.

 

“Knowing that there is a place to get food helps relieve stress for those who are having trouble making ends meet. Often a choice needs to be made between paying rent and buying food. If a family has a source for needed food, it may prevent homelessness or other issues of poverty,” says Clare.

 

As executive director of the Food Program, Clare is responsible for overseeing each area of operation. When she began in her

position, Clare had more direct contact with clients and volunteers, but as the program has evolved her focus has changed to be more strategic — trying to figure out how to get clients fed as well as teach them to be more self-sufficient. “I work closely with our board and seven other part-time paid staff to be sure we are providing quality service to those who come to St. Joe’s,” she adds.

 

COMING TO ST. JOE’S

Clare spent many years as a stay-at-home mom, working in various bookkeeping and management positions from home when her children were young. In 2001, Dorothy Johnson, the president of the board of directors for St. Joe’s at the time, contacted Clare, asking her to apply for the organization’s open financial manager position.

 

“Prior to that time, I had known there was a food pantry in Menasha, but I had no idea of the size and scope of the program until I arrived for my interview,” says Clare. “I was astounded! The number of volunteers who work weekly shifts, the in-kind and financial donations and the unparalleled support of the community all come together to create a fantastic resource for those needing nutrition assistance.”

She worked as financial manager for nearly five years. She took a full-time position elsewhere for 18 months before coming back to St. Joseph Food Program in 2007 as executive director.

 

When asked how the position has changed her personally, Clare explains it’s made her try to be more compassionate.

“I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes and understand where they are coming from and help them when it’s possible,” she adds.

 

A VALUABLE COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION

St. Joe’s has been serving Fox Valley communities since 1982 — the economy has seen many ups and downs in that time. Clare explains locally there has been a reduction in the number of families coming to St. Joe’s and other pantries since the recent recession ended, but there is still a great need.

“Some people have found work and no longer need assistance. That is hopeful. It has been said, however, that the poor will always be with us. St. Joe’s will strive to continue serving those in need as long as hunger exists,” says Clare.

Between the pantry and outreach, St. Joseph Food Program serves over 5,000 individuals each week. They distribute 12,000-15,000 pounds of food per day.

“St. Joe’s is free, local and face-to-face,” adds Clare.

In addition to weekly food, they offer nutrition education, recipe demos and information about other resources in the community that may help individuals and families in their time of need.

The Food Program is 100 percent community supported. They do not receive any government funding — food or money — and St. Joe’s is not a United Way or Feeding American agency, although Clare explains they do have relationships with both organizations.

Unlike most pantries, St. Joe’s serves client families but also acts as a food bank, providing food for more than 20 organizations, including domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters, other food pantries and meal sites, and over 40 schools in the area.

 

FOCUS ON FRESH

Clare explains St. Joe’s is unique because they are able to offer families fresh food. They provide a minimum of two fresh fruits and vegetables plus potatoes each week. She says there are usually 12-15 choices on the line.

 

“When clients come to St. Joe’s, they can receive choices of bakery items, milk, eggs, a large selection of produce, meat, non-perishables, diapers, paper items and personal care items,” adds Clare.

 

Two trucks go out every day of the week except Thanksgiving and Christmas, picking up donations from local grocery stores, convenience stores and bakeries. They also started a program, Grow a Row for St. Joe’s, to increase awareness and the quantity of fresh food coming in.

 

DONATIONS AND VOLUNTEERS WELCOME

Clare explains the best way for the community to help is to donate time, food and especially funds. If St. Joe’s had no more donations coming in, they would go through the food in their building and storage in approximately 14 days. While food donations are important to keep families fed, Clare reveals cash donations allow them to make a greater impact.

 

“Cash is helpful because it doesn’t have to be stored,” she says. “We try to run very lean here and do not have off-site storage. Also, because of the amount of food we go through each week, we need to purchase a lot of food so we have buying power — with that buying power we are able to get very good deals, better than if most people if they just went into the grocery store.”

What donations aren’t needed? Foods high in sugar and sodium.

 

St. Joe’s has over 350 volunteers, but they’ll always accept an extra set of hands. Interested volunteers can fill out an application on the St. Joseph Food Program’s website, stjoesfoodprogram.org, or stop at their building for a paper copy. St. Joe’s completes a simple background

check and qualified volunteers complete an orientation.

 

“Volunteers get a tour, learn about our program and we try to place them in an area they would enjoy,” adds Clare. She explains St. Joe’s volunteers are very committed. The average volunteer stays for eight years, although some have been there over 20 years.

 

When asked her greatest challenge, Clare explains it’s evaluating the value of the program and planning for the future. “I am very conscious that we need to constantly look at the services we offer and try to judge if we are doing the right things to best assist our client families. This year, we surveyed current clients and past clients — receiving their input is very helpful in our planning,” she says.

 

And while Clare, her team and the hundreds of volunteers work each day to ensure families in need have food on their table, she credits the

community for helping make it possible. “The community has been fantastic supporting us,” concludes Clare. “We’ve been very blessed over the years. It seems like the more we reach out to the community, the more they respond.” w

 

 

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