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At our food pantry, we frequently hear from clients who are in search of pet food for their furry family members.

Last Friday, a team from Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market delivered a donation of 13,000 cans of premium cat food for distribution to neighbors in our community facing the challenge of the rising costs of pet food.

“Our goal is to support the entire family, and we know that pets are an important part of the family,” says MOM Program Director Meghan Sohns. “Many of our clients will be thrilled to have access to this cat food for their pets.”

Financial barriers are one of the main reasons why 6.3 million companion animals (3.2 million cats) are surrendered to shelters each year, according to ASPCA.org. And the Washington Post reported in December that animal shelters across the country have seen an influx of pet surrenders over the last year as inflation affects household budgets.

“It’s so much better for pets to stay in the household and for us to provide these family needs,” says Emilie Williamson, Corporate Affairs Manager at Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market. “Pets are a big part of our families.”

In total, the grocers delivered more than 25,000 units of cat food to organizations in Madison and Milwaukee.

Watch News 3 Now’s coverage of the delivery.

A new story in the Wisconsin State Journal covers how the pandemic-era boost in federal funding that some families receive to buy groceries is coming to an end in February, another blow for those already struggling to afford food during a time of high inflation. The story includes interviews with people affected by this change and staff from area food pantries who expect to see increased demand, including MOM:

At the Middleton Outreach Ministry Food Pantry, 3502 Parmenter St., program director Meghan Sohns said inflation has hurt the pantry’s ability to purchase as much food as needed, even as need increased.

“In November 2021, we gave people 39,226 meals,” Sohns says. “Compared to November 2022, it was 81,287.”

Like Kane, Sohns said the federal pandemic-related aid provided a temporary reprieve for those who depend on food pantries.

“We saw at the beginning of the pandemic, there was the eviction moratorium, people were getting the extra FoodShare benefits, the child tax,” Sohns said. “And as that has decreased over the last two years, we’re seeing a significant increase. So we’re expecting a significant increase in usage and pounds (of food going) out.”

The story notes that families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), called FoodShare in Wisconsin, will see benefits reduced by at least $95 a month after Congress voted late last year to end the extra support added during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January to December of last year, grocery prices increased 11.8%, with a 15.3% hike for dairy products alone. On average, 45,184 Dane County households receive FoodShare benefits each month, according to the Wisconsin Department of Human Services.

Media coverage of the upcoming changes to FoodShare benefits has increased in recent days, including a recent story from the Middleton Cross Plains Times-Tribune that includes comments from MOM Executive Director Ellen Carlson:

The end of additional FoodShare dollars is a concern for already overwhelmed food pantries, and the food pantry at Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) is no exception. MOM Executive Director Ellen Carlson said on Tuesday, “We are anticipating an increase in need and subsequent increase in usage of the food pantry with the end of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA). According to the Hunger Task Force, the average Foodshare recipient in Wisconsin will lose about $122 on their benefits beginning in March.”

Carlson told the newspaper that pantries were already feeling the strain, and visitors to the pantry have increased.

“Food pantry usage has doubled since this time last year. In addition, we are not getting food from as many sources as we did before the pandemic and the mix of those sources is constantly shifting. In order to bridge the gap between demand for food and donated food, we have been purchasing more food than ever before. We are concerned about having enough food to meet the needs of everyone who relies on our food pantry to provide food for their families,” she explained.

MOM is encouraging local individuals, businesses and organizations to conduct food drives to help bridge the gap.

“Community food donations are a great way to increase diversity of items available, as well. Dignity of choice has always been a priority as we consider what we have to offer our food pantry guests. We also recently launched an Amazon Wish List where people buy high-demand items and send them directly to our food pantry. Food drives can be small or large–among a few neighbors or friends–or larger drives by churches, businesses, or schools.”

To learn more about how to organize a food drive visit: drives.momhelps.org.

The big game brings people together to share food and fun. MOM brings our community together to create food security. This year, we’re inviting you to make your Super Bowl Sunday part of the solution. Help us get a strong start to our #driveforfood on Sunday, Feb. 12, by drafting your Super Bowl watch party guests to bring donations of food and personal care items for MOM’s food pantry.

Food pantry usage has doubled since last year and demand is expected to grow in March when extra FoodShare benefits put into place during the pandemic come to an end. We are concerned about having enough food to meet the needs of everyone who relies on our pantry to provide food for their families and that we may have to change our services.

We are not getting food from as many sources as we did before the pandemic and the mix of those sources is constantly shifting. In order to bridge the gap between demand for food and donated food, we have been purchasing more food than ever before; supply chain issues and other factors affecting retailers make this difficult. As we plan for the future, we must consider new ways to bring in food to meet our increased food needs.

The pandemic paused community food drives – they were a critical part of how we provide food to our neighbors. We need more community food drives now and throughout the year. Food drives can be small or large – among a few neighbors or friends – or larger drives by churches, businesses, or schools. You can plan your drive at drives.momhelps.org. Watch our social media and your email for more ideas for your food drives.

We welcome a wide variety of foods! Besides reducing the amount of food available, the decrease in community drives has also significantly decreased the variety of food on our shelves. Dignity of choice has always been a priority as we consider what we have to offer our food pantry guests. Please check out our donation guidelines and share them with your friends and family.

We recently launched an Amazon Wish List where people can buy high-demand items and send them directly to our food pantry. We’ll continue to update this list based on the needs of our guests. We’re so grateful to those who have already made purchases to help stock our shelves and to those of you who choose to make financial donations to support our food security and housing stability programs.

Our Connections program is featured in a new cover story by The Capital Times about the growth of doubled-up homelessness for youth and families in our community and how organizations including MOM are raising awareness and resources to address the issue. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 7,450 students enrolled in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District and 109 (1.5%) of those students identified as homeless, according to CPI data.

In the 2019-2020 school year, 56 out of the 7,534 students (.7%) enrolled identified as homeless.

Similar to patterns in MMSD, 50% of the homeless students were Black, while those students made up just 4.6% of the overall population; 10.7% of homeless students were Hispanic, a group that made up 8.9% of the overall population; and 10.7% of homeless students identified as two or more races, nearly double the 5.5% of the overall student population.

Nicole Verhagen, the case manager for the Connections Program, said one of the barriers people face in their journeys to secure, stable housing is language. Spanish-speaking households can have difficulties securing housing.

Verhagen supports program participants in obtaining stable housing, and helps them navigate issues like a lack of credit and rental history.

“The nice thing about this program is that they’re going to be working with me for 12 months,” she said. “If there’s an emergency, we have the capacity to be there to support to prevent the eviction.”

Verhagen works to prioritize building relationships with private landlords, who can sometimes be hesitant to work with programs like Connections because they are fearful of having tenants who won’t be able to pay rent.

“I’m hoping they get a little bit more comfortable and have more tools to show them why it’s OK,” she said. “Because it’s (about) understanding that housing is a human right. And everyone deserves an opportunity to not be under that stress of worrying about what’s going to happen.”

Ellen Carlson, the executive director of MOM, said although the Connections Program is fairly new, she has seen its effect. She said the organization is helping people understand how to navigate systems they might not otherwise.

“We all have been in situations in life where we need a person beside us to help us figure out how to move forward,” Carlson said. “I think that’s one of the things I love about this, is that Nicole is that person. When people are like, ‘I don’t know who to go to, what am I supposed to do next?’

“To have that person is such a value.”

This year was about opening doors, with acts both large and small.

For Luis and Alejandra, getting out of an unstable, doubled up living situation was the most important door they walked through. Because of the case management and financial support they receive from our Connections housing program, they are financially stable and could afford to buy a car seat and other essentials they needed to safely bring their new baby boy home last month.

None of this could happen without you. As we cautiously and carefully opened up along with the rest of the world in 2022, the generosity of our community is what continues to allow us to provide the resources and tools neighbors need to build stability in their lives.

Late summer we returned to a full schedule of food pantry hours, which allowed more clients to shop in person and we continue to provide around 54,000 meals a month. We grew our Connections program, which moves neighbors like Luis and Alejandra into stable housing (read a recent story from The Capital Times that features Connections). And we welcomed both new and returning volunteers, who provide essential support by stocking shelves, making food deliveries and offering rides to seniors who don’t have access to other transportation.

Nicole Verhagen, the case manager for Connections. Photo by Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times

With the help of our community, we have stretched our resources to meet the rising demand at the food pantry, which is more than double what it was this time last year, part of a larger trend across Dane County as inflation drives up food prices. We’ve seen a similar increase in the need for housing assistance to families whose incomes don’t keep up with rising rents and the amount of housing stability payments we provide have doubled as our case managers continue to work to prevent eviction. “We wouldn’t have been able to make it without you,” one of our food pantry clients wrote in a recent email.

As we move into 2023, these ongoing trends bring me concern. Although our community food security partners continue to support our work and help us meet the need creatively, the pandemic brought great disruption to how we bring in food. This, combined with the rising demand, means I see emptier shelves when I walk through the food pantry, not the robust selection that provides dignity to our shoppers. I worry that these patterns will not leave us enough food to meet the needs of everyone who relies on the food pantry as one of the ways they fill their refrigerators and cupboards.  

But I see hope all around us, in acts large and small… Since we re-opened our doors in June to in-person shopping in the food pantry, MOM volunteers have put in more than 13,000 hours to support our programs. Their own lives disrupted, returning volunteers and people new to MOM made this work a piece of their lives. And thanks to you, we also made the holiday season brighter this year for hundreds of households — distributing Thanksgiving baskets to more than 1,200 people and providing more than 1,700 gift cards through our Winter Wishes program, a record number for us.

On a much smaller scale, when one of our team members recently learned that a gallon of milk was left out of a food delivery made to one of our clients, she hopped in her car and delivered the milk within the hour. For some of the neighbors we serve, getting to the food pantry isn’t possible due to lack of transportation, health concerns or work schedules. “What a sweetie. I was so glad to meet her face to face,” the client wrote in an email. “I nearly cried.”

Through all of these transitions, I’ve witnessed our team keep their focus on what matters most — doing what we can to ensure that neighbors in our community have what they need to thrive. I’ve seen the same from all of you — through your generous financial donations, volunteer hours and ongoing support of our mission. As we approach a new year, I know there is so much more we can achieve together. You can read more about some of the ways you can still make a tax deductible financial donation this year here. And, in addition, if your own circles can host a food drive or buy items directly from our wish list to help us keep our shelves full, it would bring comfort to so many.

Thank you for what you have done and what you will do in the coming year to help us meet the growing needs in our community. Your support means we can continue opening the door to stability for neighbors so that together we will build a better future for everyone in our community.

Sincerely,

Ellen Carlson, Executive Director

Executive Director Ellen Carlson. Photo by Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times

You can now help stock the shelves at our food pantry right from your phone, tablet or computer! Our new Amazon Wish List includes some food items we’re currently in need of for the pantry. Shop now to support food security for our neighbors. Your purchase will be delivered right to the pantry!

More than 1,200 people shopped the Holiday Art Market on December 3 and 4, which raised more than $41,000, including $19,400 in sponsorships. More than four dozen local artists appeared at the market, donating at least 20% of their sales to MOM. ReMitts sold more than $5,300 at the market, donating 100% directly to MOM. Thank you to Food Concepts, Inc. for hosting the event in its beautiful space and to our sponsors, artists, volunteers and everyone who attended for making this event a success. We love seeing what happens when our community comes together to support food security and housing stability for our neighbors. Take a peek at some scenes from the market! WATCH VIDEO

Dane County food pantries, including MOM, received wide local media coverage over the last few weeks following a joint press release that outlined the increased demand on our services. Executive Director Ellen Carlson noted that the number of monthly visits to MOM’s food pantry and the amount of food distributed has increased by 116% since this time last year. “We’ve been able to meet this rising demand to this point because of the support and generosity of people in our community,” Carlson says. “With the increase in the number of people accessing our services, we need to come together now more than ever to build food security for our neighbors.”

Access media coverage at the following links:

WKOW-TV: Area food pantries report record demand, decreasing donations

WORT-FM: Food Pantries Struggle To Keep Up With Demand

NBC15: Increased food need exhibited by high demand at Dane County food pantries

Madison Catholic Herald: Record demand at Dane County food pantries

InBusiness: Area food pantries report record demand

Madison.com: ‘We haven’t hit the ceiling yet;’ Dane County food pantries worried about record demand

Madison365: Area food pantries report record demand, need donations

WISC-TV: Dane County food pantries see record high demand

The Badger Herald: Dane County food pantries see record demand

Madison Commons: Dane County food pantries facing more demand

Sun Prairie Star: Increased demand stressing area food pantries, including Sun Prairie’s

WKOW-TV in Madison stopped by our food pantry last week to cover a $2,500 donation from TDS Telecommunications as part of its “Week of Giving” to eight local nonprofits. Community Engagement Manager Beth Johnson shared how financial support helps MOM purchase nutritious food for the pantry. WATCH HERE