FONTANA — Lakefront residents were out on the lake on Labor Day with their own pleasure craft enjoying the last unofficial day of the summer season.
Mike Trainor of Fontana steered a 28-foot Bennington twin-engine boat through the traffic , moving from pier to pier. But this was no pleasure cruise for Trainor and his crew of two, Liz Freese and Maura Havenga.
Instead, they were collecting nonperishable and canned foods left on the piers and docks at private residences to be donated to area food pantries as part of the Pier to Pantry program.
Trainor is a boat pilot who spent 11 years on the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol and working with boat dealerships around the lake. He is now a manager at the Boat House restaurant and marina, which loaned the boat for Pier to Pantry.
Residents who wanted to donate food registered in advance for the Sept. 2 lakefront collection, now in its third year.
Freese is the wife of David Freese, who volunteered at the start of the program two years ago. David was working Labor Day, and his wife volunteered to take his place on the boat.
“It’s a great program. I’m happy to help,” she said as read off dock numbers to Trainor while he guided the the boat from pier to pier.
Havenga, a friend of the Freeses, volunteered to help this year.
“It’s a perfect program for lake life people,” Havenga said.
At several stops, residents brought out bags and boxes of food, helping the Pier to Pantry volunteers to load the goods onto the broad-bowed boat.
Trainor, who started the program along with Mary Kriete-Green, also of Fontana, said it started with a simple question: What happens to the leftover food in summer lakefront residences at the end of the summer season?
“The thinking was, the people who lock up their cottages at the end of the season, you’d think they would want to get rid of their stuff,” Trainor said.
Trainor said it seemed reasonable to ask the lakeside community to put out their unopened bags and cans of nonperishable foods for those less fortunate.
Trainor and Kriete-Green are not strangers to charitable work.
Trainor has led youth missions to build homes in Mexico and to pack food packages sent to Third World countries, while Kriete-Green started Dan Green’s Touch a Life, Heal a Heart Foundation in memory of her late husband.
Kriete-Green said on the first two years of the program, it rained on Labor Day. While the collections were not caught in the rain, she said: “We were chased by the downpours. I just hope we have good weather.”
This year, the weather was sunny and dry.
The first boat run by Pier to Pantry was made in 2017 on short notice. Food was collected at about a dozen piers.
Last year, about 20 residents and associations participated, and more than 100 pounds of food was collected.
Most of that went to the Lake Geneva Food Pantry at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 715 Wisconsin St., Lake Geneva.
Sally Roth, director of the food pantry, said the pantry was running low when it received the surprise shipment of food last year. At the time, Roth was not aware of the Pier to Pantry program.
She was also surprised that someone had not thought of Pier to Pantry before.
“It was a total surprise,” she said. “It was a wonderful surprise. We’re always running low.”
This year was a bit of disappointment, as some families that participated last year decided to close up their lakefront homes early this year and were not around to donate again.
Still, on the dozen stops for this year’s Pier to Pantry, about 100 pounds of dry and canned goods were collected. The food will be distributed to one or two of Walworth County’s seven food pantries, depending where the needs seems the greatest.
Someone also dropped food off at the Boat House earlier in the day, Trainor said. Last year, donations continued long after the boating season ended.
Trainor said he was getting food donations last year as late as December.
Of the donors, he said: “They’re not supposed to go shopping for the food, but they do.”
Trainor said that with more publicity he hopes the program takes off in the next few years. He would also like to see the program adopted at other lakes around the state.
At the Shorehaven Homeowners Association pier in Fontana, resident Alex Cetera helped load several boxes of canned soups and vegetables onto the boat.
Asked about Pier to Pantry, Cetera said it was a good idea.
“It’s good for the people who need it, I guess,” he said.
Taped on one of the boxes of canned goods from Shorehaven was a hand-written note: “What’s the best nation in the world? The donation.”