Fighting Hunger: One Helping Hand at a Time

Helping Hands Craft Fair has signs throughout the Neenah Community, including Neenah High School.

Photo by: Charley Hrobsky

Helping Hands Craft Fair has signs throughout the Neenah Community, including Neenah High School.

Hunger, a worldwide epidemic — affecting more than a million families and children across the globe and in Wisconsin — offers no reprive to families who struggle with poverty.

According to, about one in five children suffer from hunger in Wisconsin. In Winnebago County, according to Feeding America, in 2014 about 19,800 people suffered food insecurities. As poverty has grown in the past decade, low-income families have entered N.J.S.D.; thus hunger issues within NHS are showing a notable increase. According to the NHS bookkeeper, out of 1,877 students at NHS, 410 of the students are on free or reduced lunch. From 2015 to 2016, 22.2 percent of students received free or reduced lunch. This school year, 20.65 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch and this number will continue to rise by the end of the school year.

In order, to combat against the increase of hunger at NHS. According to the Satellite, the school was provided with a $1,000 grant, which was used to help families provide mostly food and other necessities. Unfortunately, the discontinuity of the grant caused the ability to provide for the families within the school to halt. After the collapse of the funding, Spanish teacher Mrs. Shelley Aaholm and a team of staff collaborated to establish the Helping Hands Craft Fair.  Aaholm assumed the role of the fair organizer.  The Helping Hands Craft Fair takes place at NHS the first week of November, and since its inception it often helps families during the holiday.

Beginning in 2008, in the small school cafeteria with 43 vendors — mostly consisting of NHS staff — the Helping Hands Craft Fair commenced. From the entry fee, vendor fee, used book sale, and raffle earned $1,100. Now, the Helping Hands Craft Fair has 112 vendors and the amount of visitors have been on an increase.

“The vendors know the cause and they love to come back to interact with high school students,” Aaholm said with a confidence about the support received from the community.

On average, about 2,200 or more people attend this event and they keep coming back. From the past nine years, the money earned is kept in an account and is managed by the administrators and guidance counselors.

“That account stays open the whole year, and we pull it out to help students and families,” Aaholm said.

In the eight years, according to Aaholm, the Helping Hands Craft Fair has seen a constant increase of hunger issues and financial assistance. Aaholm recalls a young boy who had been aided by the Helping Hands Craft Fair. The young boy had been through rough family circumstances and stayed with his grandmother. Unfortunately, he had no money to eat breakfast or lunch at school. After hearing about his story, the money from the craft fair was pulled out of the bank.

“The craft fair stepped in to help buy the boy breakfast and lunch for the whole year,” Aaholm said.

To date, it has helped a total of 116 families and overall raised on average $25,000-to-$30,000 in the past nine years. Providing full holiday meals prepared from Festival, checks, and gift cards to Wal-mart. The money earned has also helped start up a new financial assistant program. Two years ago, $2,000 from the Helping Hands Craft Fair and a $750 grant from Future Neenah helped start up the Orbit. According to the Satellite, the Orbit is the school’s community closet where limited amounts of food: canned and nonperishable goods are stored along with other personal care items.

Last year, it raised in total $17,095.26 from all the events held during the Helping Hands Craft Fair. The next Helping Hands Craft Fair is planned for Nov. 4 and Aaholm hopes that the craft fair continues to help the community and families out there in need.