Loaves & Fishes of the Fox Valley Inc. flexes meal program to meet needs of diners, volunteers

By Kara Patterson
RSVP Program Assistant

When Loaves & Fishes of the Fox Valley Inc. could no longer keep its dining room open during the pandemic, the agency found a solution: meals to go.

The Community Meal program pivoted to distribute dinner in take-out containers through a drive-through set-up at its St. Therese Activity Center site in Appleton. Meal service also incorporated a walk-up station for cyclists and pedestrians.

Volunteers work at Loaves & Fishes of the Fox Valley Inc.’s Community Meal site in Appleton.

“We know we’re preparing meals for people who probably can’t afford them, and they really appreciate it, and it’s just a good feeling,” said Lois Dennik of Appleton, who started volunteering at Loaves & Fishes in 2020 and has been an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer with the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) since 2008.

In April of this year, after surveying diners and volunteers, Loaves & Fishes welcomed its guests back to the tables while also continuing to provide take-out service.

Shannon Krahn, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said about three-fourths of those diners preferred take-out service. Concerns about COVID-19 – and the convenience of the take-out service – factored into their responses.

“What we decided then was let’s do both, because that’s what we’re here for, to meet the needs of the people we’re here for,” Krahn said.

Krahn said some guests use the hybrid approach to eat in the community setting on some nights and take away meals on others.

“The option is always there for them to eat in or take out, whatever works best for them,” she said. “When we see almost everyone coming in to eat, we’d re-evaluate again. For the foreseeable future, we’ll just do both.”

Krahn said Loaves & Fishes kept volunteers’ suggestions in mind for re-opening the dining room. Precautions the agency implemented included plexiglass at volunteer stations, and tables that are farther spread out.

On the assembly line, Dennik places food items into boxes for diners prior to the dinner hour.

Volunteer Fox Cities, which sponsors RSVP, provides volunteers and support services to nonprofits to help them meet their missions in serving the community.

Krahn said she has heard quite a few of the agency’s approximately 150 active volunteers say they are RSVP volunteers.

Loaves & Fishes’ volunteers support the agency in providing meals to an average of 85-plus people per night, three nights per week.

“We’ve had to make a lot of changes and they’ve had to be flexible, and they’ve just been fantastic about everything, very supportive,” Krahn said.

Ever since Loaves & Fishes re-opened its dining room, a table has stood in the check-in area. Diners can choose from hygiene items and nonperishable food staples according to their needs.

“A lot of volunteers will donate items and we just keep the table stocked,” Krahn said.

Volunteers sign up for shifts via the agency’s online scheduling system. Meal prep runs from 3-4 p.m. and meal service runs from 5-6 p.m. The agency also is seeking volunteers to work in its garden, Krahn said.

“If they need a sub, all they have to do is click a button and an email goes out to the volunteer base,” Krahn said. “We have some volunteers that don’t schedule themselves (in regular shifts.) They pick up sub requests. A lot of volunteers tell us they really like the flexibility.”

To get started, prospective volunteers submit an application on the agency’s website at https://loavesandfishesfv.org. For more information, contact volunteer coordinator Sue Danreiter at 920-750-0964 or staff@loavesandfishesfv.org.