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Stock the Pantry


Michelle* was working long hours at two jobs to save up enough money to move out of a cramped apartment in poor condition, where she slept on the couch and her four children didn’t have a place to focus and do their homework. She found an apartment in better condition that was in her budget and would give her family the room they needed to breathe. While she could pay her first month’s rent up front, she could not cover the security deposit. A MOM case manager worked with Michelle to provide financial assistance from one of our housing programs so she and her family could move out of their old apartment last fall. The move provided a fresh start, while still allowing Michelle’s children to remain in their schools and stay connected to friends and teammates, critical building blocks for their stability. And she and her family continue to be an anchor for the people in their community. They are quick to lend a hand, offering babysitting or other acts of support to those who need it, and recently they were able to host a gathering of friends and family for the first time in years. MOM is an anchor for Michelle’s family and others, thanks to your generosity.

Now, more than ever, our food security and housing programs are what allow people in our community to stay in their homes and take key steps on their own paths to stability.

Thousands of people in Dane County saw their federal food assistance benefits – called FoodShare in Wisconsin – drop in March after extra payments put into place during the pandemic expired. Demand for our food pantry had already doubled, driven in part by inflation and rising rents. We are currently distributing 85,000 meals a month — the highest volume of food in our history — and demand for all of our housing programs has increased as rents and eviction filings continue to rise in Dane County. We are also concerned about emergency rental assistance from the federal government ending this year and the impact that will have on people in our community who must devote large portions of their monthly income to rent. About 45% of Dane County residents spend at least 30% of their income on rent, according to the 2021 American Community Survey.

When you support MOM, you not only make stories like Michelle’s possible, you provide the building blocks for stability in our community. Your donation today can help make an immediate difference. Thank you for your support!

 *name changed

Jim Levin, a retired infectious disease physician, learned about WayForward from his daughter, who had volunteered in the past. He was looking for something to do with some of his spare time after retiring last January and started volunteering in the fall as a senior program volunteer driver. In a few cases, he has been able to share his medical expertise, offering insights to seniors heading to doctor appointments to help them better understand their condition or what questions to consider asking.

What keeps you coming back?
The gratitude of the clients you are helping drive to medical appointments, the grocery store or to pick up laundry. I enjoy the conversations we get to have on the way.

What has surprised you about volunteering at WayForward?
How well run the operation is and the caring people that work WayForward.

What would you tell a friend who is considering volunteering?
I would tell them that I am happy volunteering for WayForward and impressed with the day-to-day operations

In April, WayForward will celebrate Global Volunteer Month to honor those who give their time and talents to build food security and housing stability in our community. Over the last year, more than 1,000 volunteers have given their time to support our programs. Meet Jonathan Morkved, one of our newer volunteers, who gives his time to support our food pantry. Jonathan started volunteering in the fall. He picks up food rescue items from two local food retailers on Mondays and Fridays on his way to work, stopping at WayForward to weigh in and help stock the food he rescues.

What keeps you coming back?
I really enjoy working with the other volunteers and I believe in WayForward’s mission of ending community hunger. I love rescuing food from local retailers that would otherwise be wasted. It gives me a great sense of purpose and belonging in the community.

What has surprised you about volunteering at WayForward?
I was really surprised by the organization of the program and the open/timely communication to the volunteers. The weekly emails help keep everyone up to date and on the same page to any changes or updates to the program.

What would you tell a friend who is considering volunteering?
I would tell everyone to just sign up for one shift to volunteer inside of the food pantry. You will get a great sense of the support, kindness and inclusivity that is what WayForward is all about. You will feel so warm and welcomed that you will want to come back for more. It almost feels like a family!

Parents of children or other family members with disabilities or chronic medical conditions often have difficulty working due to medical appointments, therapy sessions and other aspects of caregiving that take up all of their time. Marie started receiving assistance from MOM to help pay her rent after frequent trips to the hospital for her teenage daughter’s treatment meant she couldn’t work for an extended period of time. Over the past few years, she has used our food pantry, Thanksgiving Baskets and Winter Wishes programs to help her family remain stable and access nutritious food. Her case manager has also referred her to other community resources. Today, her daughter is in remission from her illness and Marie is looking for work again. Marie recently wrote to her case manager, “Thanks for helping and just being an ear for me. I really need this right now!

Did you know for just $25 a month you can provide hundreds of nutritious meals a year? By joining Circle of Hope, a dedicated community of monthly givers, you provide a critical source of sustainable income that allows us to deliver food and housing assistance programs when they are most needed. Your generosity and consistent support ensures that we can help more families and individuals remain in stable housing and keep our pantry shelves stocked to provide a reliable source of nutritious food. It’s easy to become a member and you can update or change your gift at any time. Just visit, click the DONATE button and choose any amount to donate monthly.

Your commitment makes a difference:

The Widen Family Foundation generously supported MOM with a $50,000 grant in 2022 for our Connections housing program that works with doubled-up households to help them find and maintain stable housing. We asked the family to share their motivation for giving back to the community and how they involve multiple generations in making a difference.

Why did you decide to establish your family foundation?

Leanne Widen, President and Founding Member: My husband Reed and I wanted to be able to make a difference in the community that they were born and raised in. Both of our families have a long history in the Madison area.

Reed Widen, Founding Member: It provides a chance to give back to the community. It will also teach our grandchildren the joy of giving.


It was so great to see family members of all ages here when you brought your donation to MOM this summer. How do you involve everyone?

Leanne: Reed and I began the foundation in 2021 with the intention of involving our children. Together with their spouses they are active members of the board of directors. They are founding members that aided in determining our vision, mission statement and giving goals. We continue to evaluate strategies of giving and strive to remain true to these values. The grandchildren are very young, but the hope is that they will continue the legacy of giving through the foundation as they become adults and that legacy continues to grow based on our family values.


Why is it so important to you to include the youngest of your family members in this tradition of giving? What does it mean to them — even at the youngest of ages?

Ali Widen, Secretary: Although our children are all still very young, it is important to us that they see us connecting with those in need in our community. They enjoy coming along on tours of the various organizations we have worked with and seeing the impact those places have for those they serve. We look forward to seeing how their roles in the foundation will evolve as they get older. It will be so valuable to have the next generation’s insight on where they think we can have the most impact in our community.


Is there a story or tradition in your family from the past that illustrates how giving became a value you pass on to the next generation?

Leanne: Reed and I actively involved our children Jenna and Jesse in various giving back ways. Our family sponsored children in India and Kenya and we encouraged our children to write letters to them at a young age. As they grew older, they were encouraged to volunteer time at The Luke House, or ringing bells for The Salvation Army. Leanne volunteered her “free” time serving for the local PTO, Wisconsin Dietetic Association, Monona Grove Education Foundation and Breast Cancer Recovery in many capacities.


We know that you support educational programs, basic needs and small businesses. How did you determine these priorities for your giving?

Leanne: We worked with a family legacy counselor to align our values and expectations in order to determine our vision and mission statements for the foundation.

Ali: It was really helpful to get together as a family and talk about what is important to us and what we wanted to be the pillars of our foundation.

Why do you support MOM?

Leanne: Middleton Outreach Ministry really checks all of our giving goals as a foundation. We are impressed with the level of commitment to families of all ages, gender and need.

Ali: We were especially excited to help support your new Connections Housing Program as it helps families secure and maintain housing, while also working on individual needs. MOM truly has an immense network
of services available to their clients, and we are so thrilled to be able to support your organization.


What would you say to others who are considering establishing a family foundation?

Reed and Leanne: It is a work in progress to develop a foundation and learn how to best prioritize our giving. We hope to continue to work together as a family to provide grants to deserving organizations. We would
encourage any family to move forward knowing there are many ways to support nonprofits in our community and beyond.

Reed: I would encourage anyone to give back, even if they can’t start something like a foundation.

Five years ago, a shopping trip to spend a holiday gift card at a local store turned into something much more for Beth Norman and her then 9-year-old daughter, Beatrice. “When we got there, we  saw all these kids’ outerwear items super duper cheap after the holidays,” Norman says.

Norman started thinking about kids who could use warm clothing. So the pair took advantage of the great deals and purchased coats, snow pants, hats and gloves to donate to MOM’s Clothing Center. “Every year since then, we’ve been looking for the opportunity to give kids brand new stuff,” Norman says.

Ever since that first shopping trip, Beatrice, now 14,  looks forward to their annual tradition of giving and now she is the one who takes the lead on the post-holiday shopping trip. “This year, she said, ‘’I’m looking for the cutest stuff.” Beatrice is also now more aware of the disparities in her community, Norman says. ”It’s been really interesting to see her recognize that even in her own school there are kids who show up with less than adequate outerwear when it’s really cold,” Norman says.

This year, Beatrice noted that things seemed more expensive than in the past and the mother and daughter talked about the importance of giving, especially when families are experiencing tighter budgets.

“Our kids really listen to what we say but, more than anything, they see what we do. If we can do it together, those are the things that are going to create those family values we carry forward,” Norman says. “I am finding that more and more as my daughter gets older.”

At MOM, we have always believed in the power of our community coming together to make a difference for our neighbors.

Since our founding more than 40 years ago by members of Middleton churches who came together to make a difference for our neighbors and as an independent, community-based nonprofit since 2007, we have continued to evolve, innovate and collaborate to respond to the needs of our community. This spring, we will build on that shared history as we move ahead with plans that we’ve been discussing for nearly a decade: changing our name.

Even though we’ll have a new name and logo, our mission, vision and values will remain the same. Together, we will continue working to build a community where everyone has the stability to thrive.

Every day, we are sustained and invigorated by your generosity. When we set up an Amazon Wish List to help re-stock our food pantry shelves, your purchases began showing up within days. When we put out a call for more community food drives to keep up with the increased demand at our food pantry, the Middleton EMS organized a drive among public safety and government offices during the holidays. A group of local restaurants did the same, inviting diners to bring donations with them during the month of February.

As we undergo this important transition to our new name, we are facing other challenges. The neighbors who access our pantry and housing programs are grappling with rising rents and high food prices — their pay and fixed incomes have long since ceased in keeping up. And for many of our clients, things will get more difficult this month when additional pandemic-era federal food assistance comes to an end as food prices still hover near record highs. Now, more than ever, your support helps ensure they have enough nutritious food to eat and can remain in stable housing.

We look forward to sharing our new name with you in the coming months and inviting you to an event to celebrate with us. Thank you for being part of our next chapter. We’re excited to keep moving forward together.

This week we welcomed Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and State Rep. Alex Joers for a tour of our food pantry. MOM has received a nearly $202,000 COVID Food Pantry Aid Assistance Grant from Dane County that will allow us to cover the costs of a new freezer/cooler, bulk food and more food pantry staff hours. Executive Director Ellen Carlson shared information with Parisi and Joers about the rising demand for our food security and housing stability programs. Food pantries across the county are expecting an increase in demand in the wake of a reduction in extra FoodShare benefits put into place during the pandemic, a change that will affect thousands of Dane County residents who rely on the program to access food for their families. We are currently providing the equivalent of more than 70,000 meals a month, which is more than double from last year and the most in our history. MOM is grateful for support from the county and our elected officials as we work to build food security in our community.

Have dinner plans for tonight? All month long, six Madison Originals restaurants will be collecting nonperishable food donations for MOM: 1847 at the Stamm House, Grape Water Wine Bar, Imperial Garden WestLongtable Beer CafeNitty Gritty in Middleton and Buck & Honey’s in Monona. “We want to make sure that we can help our community the best way we can,” Sarah Niehaus, director of Madison Originals, told the Wisconsin State Journal. The nonprofit association of local, independently owned restaurants put together the “Mad Can” food drive to benefit MOM and other local food pantries. Thank you to these restaurants for bringing our community together to build food security for our neighbors!

Check out recent media coverage of the Mad Can Food Drive and learn more about food security in our community!

NBC 15: Madison-area restaurants support food pantries with ‘Mad Can’ Food Drive

News 3 Now: Area restaurants taking part in food drive to help those in need

WKOW-TV: Madison restaurants join forces this February to support local food pantries

Wisconsin State Journal: 30 Madison-area restaurants collecting food pantry donations (WSJ)