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Program urgently fishes for loaves

Hunger group faces bread shortage

March 9, 2010

Food for the Hungry needs two kinds of bread - baked and the monetary variety.

The organization collects unsold baked goods from area bakeries and redistributes them to hungry families throughout the area, including West Allis and Greenfield.

But now it can't meet current demand for bread, said founder and coordinator Mike Czarnecki.

"The need is so great," he said.

That need has been growing lately, but the supply is shrinking.

"The past year has been challenging," Czarnecki wrote in a January newsletter. "The needs have become more pressing with the economy, while the amount of product available seems to have diminished as other programs compete for food."

Besides needing more baked goods, Wauwatosa-based Food for the Hungry also is in need of "bread" to help fund its ongoing efforts. The organization will hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser April 25 at the Knights of Columbus, 1800 S. 92nd St.

Banned from loafing

Czarnecki founded Food for the Hungry in 2002. At age 59, the Wauwatosa resident found himself retired on disability. He was spending a lot of time around the house until his wife, Irene, intervened.

"My wife got tired of me using the remote," he joked. "So she said, 'Go out and do something.' "

Irene had read about La Causa, a Milwaukee-based organization serving families in need, and suggested Czarnecki help out.

Having worked in bakeries for several years, Czarnecki said he knew that unsold bread and pastries were getting trashed. He contacted a friend at Brownberry Bakery Outlet Store in Brookfield and began picking up the leftover food and bringing it to La Causa.

Volunteers enjoy work

What started with just a few volunteers picking up leftover baked goods at one bakery outlet has grown to a band of more than 100 volunteers gathering an estimated $150,000 in bakery from about 80 sources and delivering it to a network of 700 locations strewn from the state line north to Fond du Lac.

Food for the Hungry has brought bread to 18 pantries, churches and senior homes in West Allis and Greenfield. Among them: Immaculate Heart of Mary, West Allis Senior Center, Prairie Hill Senior Complex and the Ridgedale senior apartments.

The West Allis Knights of Columbus has played an integral part in Food for the Hungry's operation.

The volunteer organization was there from the beginning and has kept a close working relationship with Food for the Hungry, Knights of Columbus member John Schmitz said.

Some of Knights of Columbus' 80 members help gather the bread and distribute it based on areas in the biggest need.

In the process, members hear heart-wrenching stories of desperation, like a person who said he didn't mind if bread was moldy because he could just toast it.

"That's how desperate some of these people are," Schmitz said.

It makes it all worth it for the group to continue their work.

"It's our way of giving something back," Schmitz said. "We get nothing out of it other than knowing that we have helped people who otherwise would go hungry."

Mark Schaaf contributed to this article.

FUNDRAISER

WHAT: all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Food for the Hungry

WHEN: 3 to 8 p.m. April 25

WHERE: Knights of Columbus, 1800 S. 92nd St., West Allis

CONTACT: (414) 771-0715 or (262) 784-6591

FYI

Do you have baked goods going to waste? Call Food for the Hungry at (414) 771-0715.

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