Donations help those in need and those who give

RICK BROWNLEE (left) and Pat Prostrollo, both Madison-area residents, pose for a photo in December 2017 on the day of Christmas food-parcel deliveries sponsored by the Lake County Food Pantry. For about five years, the two men have helped the pantry's program by contributing the hams that are an item in the holiday food baskets.

"No one has ever become poor by giving," words attributed to Anne Frank.

2020 has proved a most difficult year for so many people -- a pandemic, disrupted and isolated lives, health threats, bad economic news, lost opportunities and many other problems. However, even though there were trials, many men, women and children tried to lighten the loads of others through birthday drive-bys, socially-distanced get-togethers, downtown car cruises, and even Lake County's annual Christmas food parcels that provided a free holiday meal to those persons in need.

Volunteers at the Lake County Food Pantry organize and assemble the food needed for a family meal -- or two -- recruit donors to add children's Angel Tree gifts of clothing, toys and entertainment items for parcels given out to families. The donated items can provide a brighter holiday season for the recipients and the givers.

Many givers receive their own benefits. Rick Brownlee and Pat Prostrollo, both Madison-area residents, have teamed up for about the last five years to donate the hams that are part of the food pantry's holiday-meal menu.

According to Prostrollo, the donation of a particular food item was "...kind of an idea that we came up with together." Prostrollo, president of Prostrollo All American Auto Mall, said he and Brownlee had each previously contributed money to the Christmas food-parcels program. However, one holiday season he and Brownlee, the head of B&H Contractors, worked together to donate a menu item. Brownlee was friends with another man who could help them obtain a trailerload of hams.

Prostrollo said they loaded up the trailer with the meat and transported the donations to Madison for distribution as part of the holiday parcels. Prostrollo indicated that the effort was a bit more involved than writing a check, but those persons associated with the gifts think the work is worth the time spent.

"It comes down to giving back to our community because others have given so much to us," Prostrollo said.

Jeff Nelson, food pantry president, said that 170 food parcels were distributed during the 2020 holiday season, helping 155 families who signed up for the program. Fifteen families in the program received double donations of food due to a large number of individuals in some households. Nelson said this winter's program helped about 510 people.

Prostrollo said he and Brownlee possessed about 75 extra hams that were distributed to local churches for some of their parishioners and to the area's domestic-violence shelter.

Within the food parcels -- along with the hams -- were other menu items such as cans of corn, green beans, and peas; butter; canned peaches and fruit cocktail; boxes of gelatin dessert; fresh fruit; bags of potatoes; bread loaves; and jugs of milk. Food pantry volunteers shopped at Sunshine Foods in Madison to obtain many of the food parcel items.

The program organizers had to distribute the food pantry's contributions differently in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of delivering the holiday parcels to individual homes, the organizers had the recipient families make appointments to visit the distribution spot -- Madison's downtown Armory -- and have their vehicles loaded with the holiday gifts of food, toys and clothing.

Prostrollo said the adjustments were part and parcel of how many people had to adjust to the current pandemic. In the mechanics' shops at his auto dealerships, the staff practiced social-distancing when motorists brought in their vehicles for maintenance work. The shop staffs also spent extra time cleaning the cars that were brought in to help keep everyone safer.

In addition, no new cars were assembled in factories during March, April and the first half of May due to COVID-19-related shutdowns. Some auto plants continue to operate with only one or two work shifts instead of the usual three shifts. In addition, the supplies of auto parts were disrupted leading to some empty parts shelves. According to Prostrollo, his monthly vehicle inventory could decrease by as many as 175 autos, making used vehicles more valuable.

Prostrollo sees easier days ahead during 2021 as the coronavirus vaccines are more-widely distributed and more people are inoculated. He expects that people will embrace a return to normality when vaccine protection becomes more available.

"I think we need to be optimistic, and we're very positive about 2021," Prostrollo said.