Couleecap and food pantry help during pandemic

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Two months ago, the Prairie du Chien Food Pantry bought this colorful van to pick up donations and deliver food.

By Ted Pennekamp


Couleecap has helped many area and Crawford County residents through their COVID-19 programs which began in March and continue to do well.

“Couleecap launched a financial assistance program to help people pay critical bills when the March Safer-at-Home Order went into effect,” said Couleecap Executive Director Hetti Brown. “Through that program, we provided direct bill pay assistance to residents who lost their jobs and waited on unemployment benefits. In early June, we also launched the Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program to pay up to three month’s rent for people with low-income (up to 80% county median income) whose income had been affected by COVID.  We merged the financial assistance program with that program in June so rental assistance applicants could also receive help to pay other bills.”

In addition, Brown noted, “All of our normal programs have been sustained, including help to prevent homelessness, weatherize homes, and support small businesses.”

Couleecap continues to work hard in a variety of ways to fight hardships caused by COVID-19. Couleecap serves Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe and Vernon counties.

Wisconsin Rental 

Assistance Program

Provides up to three months of rental assistance for people with low-income who are struggling with COVID loss of employment. Case managers provide rent payments or security deposits, eviction prevention support, and service referrals. The latest total shows that the Rental Assistance Program provided relief of $1,075,354 to households in need, an average of $2,217.22 per household.

Tax Foreclosure 

Prevention Pilot Program

Pays back taxes and other bills while offering financial counseling and budgeting assistance to low-income families struggling with COVID loss of employment. Data will be used to build a regional and state program.


Financial Hardship

Provides financial assistance programs for bill payment assistance for people waiting on unemployment benefits, not able to access benefits, or whose benefits do not cover critical costs. Couleecap helps with mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, car payments, prescription costs, and more. Special funds were also established for unemployed healthcare workers and migrant or immigrant workers.

The latest count shows that the Couleecap COVID Financial Assistance program assisted 547 households and distributed $302,558.42 to households in need. That’s an average of $553.12 per household.


Regional Donation Drive for Immigrant Families

Clothing, shoes, diapers, hygiene, and household cleaning products were collected and distributed to over 150 local families in June, and continuing efforts collect and distribute items as needed.


Small Business

Financial assistance for rural and downtown businesses include 0% interest deferred loans and grants given to small businesses struggling due to loss of revenue. Couleecap provided grant dollars for the Viroqua and La Crosse small business relief funds and created the Launch La Crosse Small Business Recovery Fund to aid grants to businesses in commercial districts in La Crosse County.

Top date, 47 small businesses were assisted with $166,222 distributed to area small businesses for an average of $3,536.64 per business.

Recovery Education and Technical Assistance 

Couleecap is hosting free virtual events to offer consultation and education for businesses to enable sustainable recovery. Couleecap also provides one-on-one business consulting.

Food Insecurity

Couleecap has expanded food pantry service and added home delivery. Couleecap also expanded food pantry curbside pickup hours. Home deliveries are made to low-income households with health or mobility challenges that would prevent pantry access otherwise.

Clothing and Food Programs Coordinator Jann Sturmer of the Prairie du Chien Food Pantry said the expanded hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Emergency hours are also available. People should call ahead for a list of items that are available, said Sturmer. The phone number is 608-326-2463.

Sturmer said food and other items are boxed up and taken to the back door where people can get their boxes. Food pantry workers also take the boxes to elderly clients and place the boxes in the car for them.

“Things have been going smoothly,” said Sturmer. “We continue to make deliveries to River Crest Village Apartments and a few home deliveries.”

Sturmer said that Trick or Treating for Food collected 500 pounds of food in Eastman. Also, numerous Crawford County residents have been very generous in donating fresh produce from their gardens as well as monetary donations and non-perishable food items. B.A. Kennedy Elementary School of Prairie du Chien also conducted a food drive this past week which collected a large amount of non-perishable items. The Sawmill Saloon and People’s State Bank also helped out with the drive.

In addition to food, the food pantry has been receiving shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor blades, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and other such items to be distributed to those in need.

Sturmer also noted that Aldi Grocery Store, Walmart, and the Prairie du Chien Kwik Trip stores donate food every Monday, including a variety of fresh produce such as apples, tomatoes, etc. “The fresh produce is healthy food for people and greatly appreciated,” said Sturmer.

“We have a really great community,” said Sturmer about everybody’s help. “It’s been very nice.”

Sturmer said the food pantry has been averaging 200 households served per month. In October, the food pantries in Gays Mills and Prairie du Chien combined to serve 300 households and 698 people.

To help with food donation pick-up and delivery, the Prairie du Chien Food Pantry purchased a van two months ago, said Sturmer.

Sturmer can be reached at or at 608-326-2463.

A service provided by the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Crawford County is a cab voucher. Sturmer said people can purchase a $20 cab voucher for $11.50. In addition, they can sign up for energy assistance at the County Administration Building in November.

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