"Mineral Point is where everyone is special, and no one is too special."
Mo | Mineral Point, WI
"I was raised on a farm right outside Mineral Point. The land was settled by my great grandfather. My parents had an internationally renowned herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. But in the '70s there was a long string of farm sales, and our farm got sold on the courthouse steps. I was 14 years old. It was pretty rough on our whole family.
See, in farming, you take out your loan in the spring, you plant your crop, and then when you sell it, you get money and pay your loan back. But that year the loan company called in the entire loan, early. Of course my family couldn't do it. They could not get any operating money. They couldn't even get money to feed their cattle. They ended up having to sell their championship herd of cattle, starving. The sound of those animals bellowing for food haunted my dad 'til the day he died. He loved them like he loved his kids. And he loved us a lot!
My parents were both really feeling people. Really kind, really compassionate. They would help others out when they could. There was almost always someone at our house that wasn’t immediate family. Though finances were extremely tight, there was always room for one (or many) more. I remember as a child, my mom would stop the car to give people a lift all the time. They would just help out in big and little ways.
After our farm was sold, we moved into a little ranch house. Financially, things were tough. Our lights would get shut off, our phones would get disconnected, I remember mornings where my parents were trying to figure out how to come up with enough change to pay for lunch money. But we never went hungry. My mom would add cream of celery soup to most recipes, even pasty, to make them stretch! I lived out my teen years in Mineral Point and then left.
What brought me back to Mineral Point after several years was the birth of my nephew and niece. I had moved away right after high school, and so I wanted to be back in Mineral Point, and back with family. Back where the magic is, actually, because this place truly is magic.
I have a friend who likes to say ‘Mineral Point is where everyone is special, and no one is too special.’ I really like that."
"Fast-forward a bit, and I have my own kid and I’m on the school board for Mineral Point. During one of my terms, I went to the state school board convention with our superintendent. We were in a breakout session talking about the challenges we had at the school.
He mentioned he was concerned that there were kids in our district that were going hungry, particularly during the summer when we can’t get school services to them. In Mineral Point we're somewhat rural, so it wasn't like if you had a meal that people could necessarily get to it. We kicked around ideas, but we just never figured out how we could fix it. But the need never left the back of my head.
Then in the summer of 2015, a friend of mine made this post on Facebook that shook something up inside of me. She had been at Kwik Trip earlier that day, in line behind two kids that were struggling to come up with enough change to pay for their lunch. She said in her post, ‘I bought their lunch. Did I do the right thing?’ Everybody said, ‘Oh, of course you did.’
The next day I was back on Facebook, and I read a story that made me cry. It was about a coffee shop barista. He was in training, and a woman came in, ordered a coffee and said, ‘And add a pending coffee.' He was new; he thought he didn't hear that quite right. Next, three attorneys came in, ordered three coffees, and said, ‘Add a pending coffee.’ He's like, ‘Okay, I heard that right.’ He asked his manager, 'What is a pending coffee?' ‘Just watch,’ she said. Pretty soon a homeless man walked in and asked, 'Is there any pending coffee?
So I read that, and I just turned into a puddle. I was like, ‘That's how we do it! That's how we do it.’
So I go to Kwik Trip. I knew the manager, and I asked her if she would consider letting people give change. She could collect it and let others use it if they needed to. She liked the idea, but thought it would put the clerks in a rough spot because they'd have to decide want versus need. So I started looking around, thinking about a different way.
Our local grocery store is Point Foods and the owner, Jeff, was on the school board with me, so we started to talk. He loved the idea of helping local families. We started talking about giving out gift cards so families could buy what they needed at the store. He offered to print out the cards at his expense. Then I asked my Facebook community to help me brainstorm names, and Pointer Pantry was born."
"Early on, as I was trying to put the pieces together to create the Pointer Pantry, I reached out to my brother. We’re on both sides of the political spectrum so I thought it would be a good project to do together. We knew we wanted our focus to be on kids, and we knew we wanted the people who received to be able to do so confidentially, but we didn’t know how to identify them or where to start.
We reached out to the school and asked, ‘Can you tell us how many kids are on free and reduced lunch?’ Also, any teacher who feels that a student is at risk for going hungry on weekends or breaks can nominate one. We decided on one $20 gift card per child, per week. We packaged them and gave them to the office, they made and applied the labels, and mailed them out.
That first time we paid for all the processing, but as soon as people saw what we were trying to do, we started getting everything donated. The envelopes, the stamps, anything we need, somebody donates it. Last time I checked, 99 cents on the dollar went to kids. Nobody gets paid; the expenses are all covered in other ways. It's just like barriers would go away immediately after they came up.
We gave very clear guidelines to the store that there was to be no judgment when families would come in to redeem the coupons. We’ve had families that didn't buy any food, but they receive food stamps and so instead needed to buy deodorant, laundry detergent, and soap. We've learned that that is as big of a need, sometimes, as food. The kid goes to school smelling bad, they're not going to fit in.
We have another mom who, in addition to her regular food, bought graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey bars because she could make four treats out of each graham cracker as a reward for doing chores around the house. To be able to do that for your kids—it’s kind of a big deal.
I love that there’s choice. You have the dignity of making your own choices for your own families, and it's just simple.
We've even had a few instances where families get on better footing and have asked to defer the gift card to another kid who might need it. One time a family won a scratch-off. They said, ‘We’re okay for now.’ Another family got their tax return back: ‘Take us off the list for a while.’ There’s so much dignity in it."
"To fund it, we do lots of different things. We started by putting spare change cans around town that say Pointer Pantry on them. Then I talked to Jeff about how some grocery stores ask if you want to round up or give a dollar. So now they do that, and that raises some good funds.
We pay the grocery store after people cash in the coupons, so one Friday we had a meeting with our little board. Our treasurer said we need $1100. We scraped, we found it, we got a couple people to donate. But by the time Monday came around, we owed $1310. But that very night I was scheduled to go speak at the Lions Club on behalf of the pantry. I didn't tell them we needed $210. But we passed a bucket, and there was $216 in that bucket. Now they donate $100 a month every month.
I think one of the reasons the Pantry has been such a success from the beginning is that we always encouraged input from the community, we created easy ways for people to get involved, and invited ideas. So people come up with their own creative ways to contribute.
A few years ago around the holidays, a family in town posted on Facebook, 'Stop by for a coffee, cocoa, and cookies and donate to the Pointer Pantry.' That first year they raised $70. The second year their aunts and uncles pitched in to match all donations, and they raised $540. This year it was $600! I was out of town for that first year; they just did it on their own, spontaneously.
Several young folks have stepped up in creative ways to raise money to support fellow students, from selling bracelets and bath bombs, to donating winnings from essay competitions, I love it so much when kids get involved. One of the themes that always comes up is how people give to each other. It's important here. Really, this town runs on volunteers. So it’s been fun to see the different ways community members have stepped up for the pantry.
You know, it's absolutely about feeding kids, but just as much about building our community. Another thing we do is sell coffee at our farmer’s market for donations, and I’ll be honest with you—at the beginning of the season of the farmer's market, I'm like, ‘Why the hell am I up here so early every Saturday morning, making coffee just to earn $40 worth of donations? Maybe I could just throw that in the bank myself—it would be a lot easier.’ Then I realized that this wasn't just about Pointer Pantry, this was about filling a niche in this community. It gives people something to rally around. They can buy the cup of coffee and feel involved with the Pantry, then they linger over that coffee and talk to the farmer's market vendors and buy from them. It’s got a lot of ripple effects.
Now that the Pointer Pantry has been around for a few years and it’s sustainable, my bigger dream is that we could help share this model with other communities. The beauty of the model is, it's super simple and there is so much dignity in it. I also think, when people are solving problems locally, the solution makes a bigger impact. I would love to help other people get this model off the ground in their own hometowns.
When I go to work and tell people about something that happened with the Pantry, they're like, ‘Do you know how your face lights up when you talk about that?’
I get way more from this than I give to it. It just warms my heart to see people come together to help other people that they don't even know. They just know they are in need, and that we need each other."
-Mo | Mineral Point, WI
Group photo credit: Lendrum Photography, LLC and Upland Hills Health, Dodgeville, WI