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Robert Olson, Ashland

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Free food program in danger of shutting down

Beckie Taylor said a free food distribution program has made a huge difference to her family at a time of great need.

The Odanah woman was picking up food for several families Thursday from the Farmers to Family Food Box Program operated by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Hunger Food Task Force. Her commodious van made her the perfect choice to bring food home to her family and her neighbors.

"It's amazing," she said. "It makes a huge difference for my family, especially with the unemployment rate we have right now."

Taylor's aunt has been in hospice care over recent weeks and the family was able to be at her side without worrying about rushing home to shop and prepare meals thanks to the program.

"It means the world to us," she said.

The food has been handed out weekly for the past three weeks at Bad River Indian Reservation Food Distribution Center, 73451 Maple St. near the Bad River Casino. It is open to anyone, not just members of the Bad River tribe, regardless of income.

But as desperately needed as the food has been, all has not gone smoothly. Bad River Food Distribution Manager

Melisa Corbine said the tribe may be forced to cancel next week's truck, not because they've run out of food, but because the Food Distribution Center doesn't have room to store the frozen fare that makes up a large portion of the boxes handed out.

Corbine said Tuesday that the tribe has secured a grant for more freezer space, but until the agreement is formalized and the freezer equipment is installed, the future of the program is still up in the air.

"They want us to take more food, but right now we can't do that," Corbine said.

Through the program, any family in need is entitled to family-sized boxes of food, and obtaining it could not be easier.

"There is no eligibility required, no income checks," Corbine said. "People who need food can just drive up and we will load the food for them, they don't even need to get out of their car. There is no paperwork to fill out, it's open to anyone who needs the food."

The food packages given out last week included boxes of breaded chicken breast meat, both regular and spicy, frozen pork pasta in plastic bags, ready to be heated and served, frozen fried chicken and fresh vegetables; about 60 pounds of food all told.

"A couple of times we got dairy boxes which included shredded cheese, butter and a brick of cheese," Corbine said.

The program has allowed food to be handed out at a number of Indian reservations throughout Wisconsin. Lac Courte Oreilles has been taking part, and the Red Cliff reservation is due to start this week.

On Thursday, a steady stream of cars lined up at the Odanah distribution site. As they stopped, a worker would ask the driver how many families they were picking up for and load the appropriate numbers of boxes into the vehicles.

It was that simple. Given the double-digit unemployment rates caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the program has been a godsend for some families — though turnout Thursday was lighter than in recent weeks, Corbine said. "I think people are getting a little sick of the same thing," Corbine said. "That's a little unfortunate. People are grateful for it, but to get chicken nuggets three times in a row is a little much."

Still, residents have come from Ashland, Washburn and Red Cliff to get provisions.

"It's spread through social media and word of mouth," Corbine said.

The BRICK Ministries and Mercer Food Shelf have also been taking food to supplement their own food programs.

"This is amazing!" exclaimed BRICK Food Shelf Manager Emma Calaway. "Everyone should take part in this. It covers a vast number of people, and if people need it, they should come and get some."

The BRICK now is operating under expanded income guidelines that allow residents with an income of up to 300% of the poverty line to visit pantries.

"A lot of people can qualify who didn't in the past," she said.

The Bad River effort has both augmented the BRICK's supplies and helped feed families that its shelves can't serve.

"For the ones I can't reach, or the ones who need more food, this is great," Calaway said. "It reaches an area I cannot cover."

Corbine said it's difficult to say exactly how many families have taken advantage of the food, though it's surely in the hundreds. Given the number of organizations that took food, it was also difficult to pin down exactly how much was given away, she added.

The workers at the distribution were enthusiastic about the effort.

"I think it's awesome," said Kateri De Ford, the Bad River Youth Services coordinator who was among the crew loading vehicles with food. "I think it's a great way to show the community that we care and we are thinking about them. These times have put everyone in a pinch and pickle. This is a way of saying not to give up, to be safe and hopefully the world will get back to normal soon."

The program will have at least one more distribution day, Thursday at a time yet to be determined, Corbine said. She said it was possible there would be more distribution days, but that too remained to be determined.


Weaving a new business model
Crafters reeling after loss of craft shows turn to Internet

All Chequamegon Bay businesses suffered when they closed to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Northlands. But crafters faced problems unique to their livelihoods when arts and craft shows canceled plans for 2020.

Many artisans made most of their money at these fairs and didn't have what are considered regular jobs. Therefore, they aren't counted among the ranks of the unemployed.

"There's quite a few of us falling through the cracks," said Cathy Morey, who owns Cathy's Homestead Weaving with her husband, Mark. "We don't fit the regular criteria."

Cathy Morey has worked looms since 1983, when she started selling rugs at farmers' markets and small craft shows while raising three girls. When her husband ended his carpentry career in 2004, he joined the business and it became a fulltime occupation for both.

Between May and Christmas, the couple travel to

art and craft shows in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, camping out for the weekend and selling rugs, wall hangings and table runners plus more products woven from their 12 looms.

Cathy Morey said they could sell about 30 rugs in one weekend at the 15 to 17 shows they attended annually, and mingle directly with their customers and vendors who had become friends over the years.

Now the shows are gone, and Morey doesn't believe they will return this year because of lingering concerns over safety and liability. So the Moreys — like many other crafters — have turned to the Internet to maintain a semblance of an income.

The upgraded venture, cathyshomesteadweaving.com and Facebook page, is doing better than expected although it doesn't match the receipts garnered at shows, Morey said. They also sell from their home and farm, Morey's Pine Valley Dexters, on Highway C near Washburn.

They also are experimenting with new ideas, such as setting up a virtual booth in their yard and demonstrating weaving techniques to run live over Facebook.

But their saving economic grace was their decision to put in for 63-year-old Mark's Social Security benefits in January. They had hesitated to start drawing on it early but are glad now they did as it has become their main source of income.

While Cathy Morey misses attending shows, she also recognizes that the decision to cancel shows will come at an economic loss for the communities.

Earlier this year the Bayfield Chamber & Visitor Bureau announced cancelation the 2020 Bayfield Festival of the Arts, one of the shows the Moreys would have attended.

Marketing director Paige Rautio said most vendors came from out of town, therefore spending money in Bayfield, and the show drew a lot of visitors to the downtown region.

But on the upside, she said, it's exciting to see galleries evolving and finding new ways to sell their products, and she believes they will come out stronger in the end for it.


Fewer than half of grocery shoppers wear masks

An observational study of grocery store customers in 20 Wisconsin counties last month shows fewer than half the shoppers wore masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people wear face coverings in public places to reduce spread of the new coronavirus. There is concern among health officials about whether people are taking this precaution.

"We think of masking as this seemingly simple intervention, but it's rather complex," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

"Just like anything else, there's habit and memory. You have to remember to take a mask, get into the habit of that — and this is not a country that has ever done that before so it's a new thing for people to learn," she said.

Safdar oversaw a study by students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical Scientist Training Program that found 41% of 3,271 grocery shoppers observed between May 16 and June 1 had their face covered as they exited stores.

A Gallup poll conducted in April showed 68% of Americans claimed to "always" or "sometimes" wear a face mask in public.

Student researchers went to 26 grocery stores around the state and found women were more likely than men to wear a mask and younger people were less likely to do so than older counterparts. There was a wide range in how many customers wore masks. In Adams County, 6.8% of shoppers wore face coverings, the lowest of the 20 counties studied. Dane County was the highest at 69%. Brown County was nearly 38%. Milwaukee was 41%.

Public health officials around Wisconsin have urged people to wear masks, especially when they may have difficulty staying six feet from others in a confined space. Some private businesses require customers to do so, and Milwaukee County requires it for most county-owned facilities and recommends it for Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

But there has been pushback against such policies across the nation as individual rights and public responsibility clash. In Wisconsin, Stevens Point police say a man harassed Asian Americans at a grocery store in May. According to a statement from the Stevens Point Police Department, "customers were called names and harassed for wearing masks because of their race."

Public health officials around the state have encouraged people to wear face masks, although it is not required in Wisconsin.

"We encourage everyone who is able to wear a face covering when it's not possible to physically distance. Wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing is just another way we take care of each other and take responsibility for the health of our community," Christy Vogt, health educator for Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a statement.

The agency was more pointed in remarks posted on social media: It tweeted "We can do much better! Don't leave home without your masks, folks!" in reference to the unpublished UW study showing 41% of grocery shoppers wore face coverings.

The study's authors say the results suggest the need to develop ways to promote face coverings and examine the reasons why individuals choose not to wear face coverings in public.


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