Cars lined Catlin Avenue from Wessman Arena to Belknap Street for nearly two hours Wednesday, June 10, as Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank distributed over 46,000 pounds of food to 680 households.
The boxes of fresh produce, meat, cheese and dairy products were secured through the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which was created to provide support to U.S. farmers, maintain the integrity of the food supply chain and ensure Americans have access to the food they need during COVID-19.
Vehicles were already queued up by the time volunteers arrived at 9 a.m. to set up. Twenty minutes later, the line stretched to Faxon Street. Drivers who joined the line at 10 a.m. when distribution began said it reached all the way to Belknap Street.
Food Resource Developer Katie Bull said they didn't know whether to expect five people or hundreds, as it was the first of the federal food distribution events.
"It really does show there's a need," she said of Wednesday's long lines.
Madelyn Larson, a University of Wisconsin-Superior basketball player who volunteered to help distribute food, said she was not expecting such a turnout.
“It’s incredible,” said Larson, a junior. “I’m just flabbergasted there’s so many people that we get to help today. We can’t even see the end of the line.”
Pallet after pallet of food was pulled from the back of Upper Lakes Food trucks with a UWS forklift. A group of 25 volunteers collected information, directed traffic and set boxes of food in trunks, back seats and pickup beds. Ten of them were from the UWS athletic department.
“As somebody who lives in the community, it’s crazy to see how many people are out there,” said head women's basketball coach Zach Otto-Fisher. “I guess I didn’t realize how much of a need there was for it. It’s great that they have it, but it’s also sad that this is the reality right now.”
Steve Leino lives six blocks away from the arena. The Superior man has volunteered to pack boxes of food at the Second Harvest site in Hermantown in the past. He heard about the UWS distribution and decided to volunteer a little closer to home.
“I am completely blown away,” Leino said. “I just heard chatter that the line is back down to Belknap Street. This is completely mind-blowing as far as numbers. I’m certainly glad it’s available, but I’m saddened that it's necessary right now. Wow. Wow.”
People of all ages waited in line, from parents with young children to grey-haired seniors.
Linda Hollinday of Superior was there to pick up food for three households — her own, her stepfather who is on Social Security and her neighbors who don’t have transportation.
“It’s been a long morning, especially with the baby,” said Hollinday, whose children, age 1 and 13, were in the back seat.
The Superior woman said she signed up for the Sharing One’s Surplus food distribution taking place Saturday at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar and plans to share that with her neighbors as well.
In line ahead of her were two retired women from Cloquet and Dan Wolter, a Superior man who’s on disability. He wasn’t surprised at the number of people.
“It’s getting better, the food supply, but it was pretty spotty there for a lot of things,” he said.
Second Harvest has years of experience in drive-thru food delivery through mobile pantries in Solon Springs, Iron County and Cloquet, Minnesota. The scale of Wednesday’s effort, however, was much larger.
Kate McCall has been volunteering weekly with Second Harvest since February.
A retired physical therapist, McCall said she thought there would be a lot of people at the event, but not that many. As of 11:30 a.m., the line still stretched to Lincoln Street.
“This is a lot of food, and a lot of people are really grateful,” McCall said.
Unlike other food assistance programs, CFAP is available to anyone who needs food assistance. There are no income or residency eligibility restrictions for participation. Each household receives three to four boxes of fresh food.
Second Harvest will distribute the federal food boxes every week in June. The next event takes place from 10-11 a.m. June 17 at WITC in Ashland. The June 24 distribution is expected to take place on the Iron Range. For upcoming dates and times, visit the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank Facebook page.