It’s well known that volunteers are the engine that drives many organizations and events in Sawyer County. The Hayward Community Food Shelf (HCFS) has enjoyed and been witness to a volunteer who has given 25 years of her life to the HCFS mission, which is “to provide food for those in need in an efficient, compassionate and non-judgmental manner.”
That volunteer is Evelyn Barton.
Barton started with HCFS on Jan. 22, 1996. She will end what can only be called a selfless and distinguished career — albeit unpaid, of course — on June 14, when the HCFS volunteer community will celebrate her and her work at a retirement reception.
Barb Schweig, Chair of the HCFS, outlined the list of positions Barton has filled in those 25 years. They include:
• Shopper — selected food for clients; she did this for all 25+ years.
• Board member — November 1999 to June 2014.
• Vice Chair — May 2008 to June 2014.
• Volunteer Coordinator — 2008-2017, training well over 100 volunteers.
• Food Committee Chair — instrumental in making sure all family sizes were treated equally and that all received ingredients for well-balanced meals for at least three days each time they came for food assistance.
• Client Services Committee member.
• Front Shelf Coordinator during COVID-19.
Barton FIRST came to be a volunteer at HCFS when she and her husband, Bill, built a home on Sand Lake and made Stone Lake their permanent home in 1988.
“I was aware that the Hayward Community Food Shelf existed, because my husband belonged to the Stone Lake Lions Club, and at each meeting the members would bring donations for the shelf. He volunteered to deliver those items to the shelf and I sometimes went with him,” Barton said.
When Bill passed away in 1995 her friends, Marie and Jim Deeg, told her she had to get out and get involved and suggested she volunteer at the Food Shelf.
“I took (that) advice and that was the start of my long career there. When I started, they were in the basement of the Veterans Center and my job was to pack the items to be given to the clients. It was a miniscule operation then, compared to now,” Barton said, adding that clients would get just two plastic bags of non-perishable food, one item of frozen meat and no fresh produce.
Schweig said the food shelf was established by a small group of concerned citizens in 1985. Today HCFS provides assistance to approximately 850 families each year.
“Those families represent almost 2,000 individuals,” Schweig said, and today the food shelf is located on Highway 63 South in Hayward.
The HCFS mission has grown too, providing emergency food boxes to homebound individuals through the Meals on Wheels program and operating the Food 4 Kids program, which provides weekly bags of food to kids during the school year and monthly boxes of food during the summer months.
HCFS also operates the Food 4 Transition program, providing emergency boxes of food through the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department, and it also provides two additional meals during the year through its Summer Picnic Program and the Holiday Meal Program.
The work has an enormous impact on the Hayward community and it is all accomplished by volunteers and is funded through donations from individuals, businesses, churches and organizations (there is no government funding at all).
Barton said they can’t begin to count the number of volunteers she’s been involved with and the friends she’s made. She also said she can’t emphasize enough the fun they’ve had.
“We do a lot of joking and teasing of each other, and one thing I learned early was that when asked to do a less-than-favorable job, we were told that it was earning points toward our Christmas bonus. Naturally, because no paychecks were involved, we never did redeem those points,” she said.
The fun and the friends — “That’s the hardest part about leaving,” she said.
Her move will be to Black River Falls to an independent senior living facility. Her son and his family live in Black River Falls and her family lived there from 1964 to 1976. She knows people there and one of her best friends lives at the facility where she is going.
“Evelyn has been an inspiration to all of us at HCFS,” Schweig said. “Her steady and compassionate approach has been an excellent example and one that many of us try to emulate.”
In the wide, wide world of volunteers, Barton leaves big shoes to fill. Barton’s will be outsized but her footprints will stay, a testimony to what volunteerism can mean to those in need.