I counted 146 cars lined up for food in an aerial photo of the Door County Food Pantry Coalition’s distribution at the Sturgeon Bay fairgrounds Aug. 5. The photo was taken 15 minutes before the first box was even handed out. Looking at the line, I was frustrated, and I was embarrassed.
Like so many of us, I’ve been frustrated by how much COVID-19 has disrupted my life and that of my wife and children. Yet I’m embarrassed because my personal discomfort is nothing compared to the struggles some people are facing in our community – people such as those who lined up Aug. 5 for that most basic of necessities: food.
I’m frustrated that we didn’t get to properly celebrate the accomplishments of our youngest son, Kekoa, who graduated from UW-Madison at the age of 19 after completing his degree in just two years. Instead of marching into Camp Randall to accept his degree in mathematics and economics, Kekoa stared at a computer screen and watched a commencement speaker make an address from his kitchen table.
I’m frustrated because our middle son, Bret Jr., worked hard to graduate from college in three years and earn an enormous scholarship from Michigan State College of Law, only to be told just four days after he arrived in Michigan that his classes were all moving online.
I’m frustrated because our middle daughter, Nalani, moved into her freshman dorm at UW-La Crosse but has to remain largely isolated from other students. I’m frustrated because our youngest daughter, Malia, is attending her junior year of high school online from a lonely corner of our house.
The list of my frustrations goes on and on. My wife, Cari, and I didn’t play volleyball this summer. We can’t spend Sunday mornings with our church family. Our trips to Florida, Texas and South Carolina were all canceled. Our weekly trivia night with friends over dinner and beer at the Brick Lot is a distant memory.
But my family is incredibly lucky compared to many others. We are not one of the 6 million Americans who have contracted the virus. My wife and I were not furloughed from work, nor are we among the 40 million people who have lost their job. There are many people whose lives have been disrupted in ways far more profound than anything my family has endured.
That day at the fairgrounds, 500 people received food from the coalition. A week later, the coalition set up another food-distribution event in Sister Bay for families in northern Door County. It has been doing this all summer long. The coalition (FeedDoorCounty.org), in partnership with United Way, has been hosting food-distribution events at various locations for several months. These massive efforts are coordinated by people who are far more organized than I am, so when I do attend, I simply try not to get in the way.
At one of these events, the coalition ran out of food, so I was asked to speak with families that we had to turn away. I told an older woman whose husband had dementia that we couldn’t help them that day. I told a young woman with three small children in the back seat of a very old car that we had run out of food. She broke down crying.
As frustrating as COVID-19 is to me, I cannot fathom how frustrating this health and economic crisis is for those who aren’t as lucky and privileged as I am.
Although July and August have been strong months in tourism, Door County got a late start. It also seems likely that far fewer buses with leaf-seeking visitors will be here this fall. The most recent Door County unemployment rate was almost three times normal. Many local families that live off seasonal wages won’t earn enough this summer to carry them through the winter.
It’s unrealistic for me to feel no frustration about the many life experiences that this virus is stealing from my family. Yet I must also remember how comfortable my life truly is. Although it’s beyond my power to solve my family’s small frustrations, it is completely within my power to help alleviate the much bigger struggles that many in our community face.
Please join me by giving to the Door County Emergency Response Fund (RespondDoorCounty.org). As a partnership between the Door County Community Foundation and United Way, the Emergency Response Fund creates and supports projects such as the Food Pantry Coalition and the Rental Assistance Program (RentReliefDoorCounty.org). As the weather turns cold and jobs dwindle, we will face a very difficult off-season. We can get through it if we support one another as a community.
This column was written by Bret Bicoy, the President and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation and originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse.