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Food insecurity has increased in recent years

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed 15 percent of Americans experienced food insecurity last year. State figures show participation in the FoodShare program increased 25 percent from 2008 to 2009. In some parts of the state, dem...

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed 15 percent of Americans experienced food insecurity last year. State figures show participation in the FoodShare program increased 25 percent from 2008 to 2009. In some parts of the state, demand shot up more than 50 percent.

Not everyone qualifies for food stamps and they may not be enough. That's where pantries come in. Andy Czerkas runs Dane County's most-used food pantry, The River. On a recent Friday night, the clatter of plates and chatter of people livened up a huge warehouse where people were eating a hot dinner and picking out food for later. Czerkas says the atmosphere is really upbeat, with music and flowers on the table.

"We want people to feel welcome and have a good time," he says.

The River Food Pantry will run a deficit November and December in order to afford 20,000 pounds of food a week to some 500 Madison families. Some have never used a food pantry before. Czerkas recalls one woman hesitant to come. He says she told him how she was making over $100,000 a year and now she was about lose her house.

Czerkas says the average income in some poor north side neighborhoods near the pantry is $11,000 annually for a family of three. He says the need for assistance is great.

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Last year, the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty reported that the poorest areas of the state were: central Milwaukee; a 10-county region in northwestern Wisconsin, and along Lake Superior and Rock County.

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