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St. Hyacinth: Dedicated to south side

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St. Hyacinth Church has a food pantry that has been serving the community for more than 100 years. Photo by Cy Kondrick /

Through providing food, clothing and medical advice, St. Hyacinth Food Pantry has served the Milwaukee south side community for more than 100 years.

The pantry, located in St. Hyacinth Parish at 1414 W. Becher St., is run entirely by volunteers, including director Jim Luther. Open Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m., the pantry normally has up to 60 volunteers. Although there are a lot of repeat volunteers, every week there are new people that come to help.

Each month, the pantry serves about 650 families. Luther said the pantry serves everyone from the elderly and handicapped to the unemployed.

But the families can only come once a month due to certain governmental guidelines, according to Luther.

Every family is supplied milk, a pasta item, a tomato-based product, beans, tuna fish, soup, fruit, a vegetable and cereal, along with two or three meats, Luther said. The food they receive is funded by the federal government.

“We get the meat from Feeding America and bread from Food for the Hungry,” Luther said. “In the summer, farmers from the farmers’ market give 1,500 pounds a week of fresh fruit and vegetable.”

Dana Hartenstein, the communications coordinator for Hunger Task Force, said in an e-mail the force has partnered with St. Hyacinth since 2000. The pantry, which is a Hunger Task Force Agency, receives funding and aid from Hunger Task Force.

“We help them with food … administering their Emergency Shelter and Food Program fund, training and technical assistance,” Hartenstein said.

Along with giving food and clothing, the pantry also has nurses who volunteer and give medical advice and personal hygiene products for community members, Luther said. They are also qualified to register people for the Women, Infants and Children program.

“It is a very needy area — 60 percent of the community (that attends the pantry) is unemployed,” Luther said.

St. Hyacinth’s has also worked with Marquette during Hunger Clean-Up and new student orientation week.

Rosalia Mahr, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, first began volunteering as a freshman through Urban Connection. She partnered with Tom Nass, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, to begin a group that goes down to the church to volunteer every Wednesday.

“It is absolutely amazing,” Mahr said. “They now let me have interactions with the guests, and I know a little Spanish, so I help translate with the nurses.”

Although this semester they did not go every Wednesday, they do go most weeks, Mahr said.

“One of the biggest issues is transportation,” she said. “Sometimes we use friends’ cars, or I borrow a car, but other times Jim and other volunteers will come and pick us up and bring us back, which is really nice.”

Mahr said all of the volunteers have a kind and open heart.

“It is a blessing to work with these people,” she said.

Luther, who is retired, described the experience as very rewarding.

“(It) gives me the chance to give back a little to society for what they have given me,” Luther said.

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