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After four years of steady, and sometimes rapid, growth in the number of people needing FoodShare, Wood County’s numbers have been leveling out for the past year, according to officials.

Starting in August 2011, Wood County saw rapid growth in the number of people needing FoodShare, the former food stamp program, said Brandon Vruwink, Wood County Economic Support and Employment Services division manager.

In 2008, there were 2,580 FoodShare cases, Vruwink said. That number grew to 3,850 cases in 2011, then increased to about 5,600 cases by the last quarter of 2012. Since that time, the number of cases has remained fairly consistent, within about 100, Vruwink said.

“The good news is the people needing assistance are getting it now,” Vruwink said.

There were a number of people who never received any kind of financial assistance before and were holding out and hoping they’d find work or their financial situation would get better, Vruwink said. Word of mouth from people who were receiving FoodShare helped to get more people in the program.

National figures show the amount of people getting FoodShare across the country is decreasing, Vruwink said. He expects the numbers in Wood County will start to decrease too, but doesn’t anticipate any big changes, unless something drastic happens in the communities.

While FoodShare recipients have stayed consistent, the number of people being seen at the South Wood County Emergency Pantry has increased, said Ann See, pantry chairwoman. Through April of this year, the pantry has seen 1,214 people, a number that is up 298 people from the same time in 2013.

“We’re finding a lot of larger families,” See said. “We really get hit hard the first and last weeks of the months.”

The recent food drive by Postal Service employees has helped to keep the food supply available for people who need it, but demand continues to grow, See said.

A lot of things effect whether the need for for FoodShare grows or declines, Vruwink said. Things have been tough for a lot of people during the past several years.

“That’s what FoodShare is there for — to support the people that need help,” Vruwink said.

The Wood County staff that administers the FoodShare program has done a phenomenal job of keeping up with the demand, said Vruwink, who added the county also has programs in place to help people who need FoodShare get jobs.

You may contact reporter Karen Madden at 715-423-7200, ext. 6729, or follow her on Twitter: @wrtkmadden

How to help

Donations for the South Wood County Emergency Pantry can be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the First Congregational Church, using the Maple Street entrance. Look for the white door marked Food Pantry.

Monetary gifts can be mailed to: SWEPS, c/o First Congregational Church, 311 First St. S., Wisconsin Rapids WI 54494. Monetary gifts also can be dropped off at the church office.

For very large donations of food, call 715-422-2050 for information regarding an alternate drop-off location.

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