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There wasn’t a specific goal when the team at Middleton-based NET started a month-long food drive in response to the rising need at WayForward and other food pantries across Dane County.

But that was before the competition got serious.

Once the team at NET (Network Engineering Technologies) split into four teams, collecting food each week to earn the pieces to a 1,000-piece puzzle, the potential impact of their efforts quickly took shape.

After just one week, the company brought in 650 pounds of food. Each team of 25 people took advantage of the chance to earn five puzzle pieces for bringing in meal ingredients like pasta and sauce or canned chicken and rice. The drive, which NET launched following last month’s collective call for help from three dozen food Dane County food pantries, is scheduled to end on Friday, Aug. 2.

“With people still working a hybrid or fully at home schedule I just wasn’t sure what I could hope to expect – but people have blown my mind with how generous they’ve been!” says Laura Duffield, NET’s Accounts Receivable Manager, who led the effort. “Making it a competition between groups has also been a big driver of success.”

Another motivating factor has been the decision to drop NET’s donated items off weekly at WayForward’s pantry warehouse, she says. “It’s great to get a group of people over there to unload so they can see where their donations are going, and helps to feel ‘refreshed’ for the next round of weekly donations.”

Week two of NET’s drive focused on personal hygiene, with donations including laundry detergent and period products. Teams competing to collect more puzzle pieces brought in another 437 pounds for the pantry.

“Now that we’re two weeks in and have a little over 1,000 pounds donated, I’m making it our goal to hit a TON of food by the time the drive is over,” Duffield said after week two.

After week three, Net brought in another 1,083 pounds of pantry staples including cooking oil, flour and sugar, bringing their running total to over a ton of donated food and personal items for the pantry.

Another benefit to the effort? Building more connections between team members who are remote and those working in the office, Duffield says.

Halfway through the drive, one of the teams had almost completed their puzzle. That moved captains for the other teams to email their members to drum up support and offer to use monetary donations sent via Venmo to do the shopping. “I think this has helped people who might feel overwhelmed going to the store and bringing it all in,” Duffield says. 

This week, the drive has a theme of peanut butter & jelly and cereal. The final week is focused on collecting school supplies for WayForward’s Back to School Program. Teams could also earn puzzle pieces throughout the competition for bringing in items from WayForward’s Most Needed Items List.

The winning team gets bragging rights and a prize to be determined. But the biggest goal is for all four teams to complete their puzzles — and bring in as much food as possible. The reward for that, which seems a probable outcome based on NET’s success so far, is expected to be a company cookout with yard games and perhaps a fun surprise, Duffield says.

“I was lucky to have a great group of volunteers who have done most of the heavy lifting and some great team captains who have really stepped up and rallied support,” Duffield says. “I would tell another company that wants to do a drive to try and not feel overwhelmed and be hopeful at how generous people will actually be.” 

The first day of school seems far away, but you can help kids start the year ready to learn right now by supporting our programs that provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Hundreds of families with students from 4K to college rely on WayForward for school supplies, as well as food to help kids learn and grow and housing assistance to prevent eviction.

Your gift of $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or any other amount can help us buy school supplies, provide nutritious food to fuel students and ensure children can remain in their homes and don’t have to change schools.

 

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20% of the food we receive to distribute to the community is surplus food from grocery and other retail stores.

We call these “food rescues” and they prevent food from going to waste. Volunteers quickly sort and stock surplus food that comes in for distribution in the pantry.

Last year, WayForward’s pantry received 207,682 pounds of food from these channels.

When Rafa*, 21, and his younger sister Gabriela, 19, came to WayForward, they were staying in an overcrowded apartment with a relative.

The siblings have lived in the United States for a couple of years while their parents remained in Mexico due to immigration issues. In the meantime, the environment they were living in became increasingly hostile and complicated. It did not feel like home.

A community member referred Rafa and Gabriela to WayForward’s Connections Program, which assists people in doubled-up living situations with finding and moving into homes of their own. With support from WayForward’s Connections bilingual case manager, the two young adults learned everything about the process of finding housing, including what to look for and potential costs. Within the first month, WayForward found an apartment that was perfect for them, both in price and location. They moved in over the summer and, after a long and complicated journey, they are motivated about the future and working hard on their next steps to be stable.

For Rafa and Gabriela, having a case manager who speaks their language and understands their culture meant the world as they navigated this major step to adulthood. They trust that their future is off to a great start and they don’t feel alone anymore. In the words of the community member who has kept in touch with the brother and sister over the last year: “You guys are changing lives.”

The pair were recently joined by a younger sibling who joined their household to finish high school. They recently shared their experience with their case manager.

How did the Connections program help you move into your own apartment?

The housing navigation along with the financial support that our family has received from the Connections/Wayforward program has helped us to move on from our vulnerable situation. Being a new renter and also a head of household at this young age it is hard to navigate the systems and also afford housing on our own in this market.

How has your life changed since you started working with WayForward?

There has been a positive change in our lives. Thanks to the support of WayForward and our caring case manager, they have made a huge impact on the well-being of me and my siblings. The most important being that we now have a place to call home. I am now even saving to get a car as my next goal.

What would you tell a friend or neighbor if they asked you to describe what it was like working with WayForward?

The hard work of the staff at WayForward makes a real difference. This is an experience where I have learned and felt supported. I would recommend for anyone in need to reach out since their work and support is exceptional.

*names and identifying details changed

A coalition of 36 Dane County food pantries released a letter to the community on Tuesday, sounding an alarm about the rising number of people facing food insecurity and the need for both immediate support and longer-term solutions to the challenges of distributing enough food to meet the growing need.

The letter, published as a full-page ad in Tuesday’s print edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, begins: “Dane County, we need your help.” The cost of the ad was co-sponsored by United Way of Dane County and the newspaper. 

“As Dane County food pantries, we serve thousands of people in our community each day. Our shared mission is to make sure our neighbors don’t face hunger,” the letter said. “But we are facing a serious challenge.”

The food pantries also held a press conference Tuesday morning at the state Capitol, where they were joined by local officials and community leaders, including Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Janel Heinrich, Executive Director  of Public Health Madison & Dane County, state legislators, county supervisors, and other invited guests. The event drew broad coverage from local media.

Wisconsin State Journal: Madison-area food pantries struggle to meet rising demand

Middleton-Cross Plains Times Tribune: WayForward, Other Food Pantries Issue Call to Action

Wisconsin Public Radio: Many Dane County food pantries are spending more on food than ever before

City Cast Madison: Interview with WayForward Executive Director Ellen Carlson

News 3 Now: Dane County food pantries ask for assistance

WMTV 15: Dane County food pantries pushing for more financial help

WKOW 27: Local food pantries call on Dane County community for support as demand increases

WORT Radio: Dane County Food Pantries Issue Call To Action, Amidst Shortages And High Demand

Spectrum News: ‘We are facing a serious challenge’: Over 3 dozen pantries come together in call for help

InBusiness: 3 dozen local food pantries issue call to action over scarce resources

WisPolitics: Local food pantries issue call to action, “Dane County, we need your help.”

Wisconsin Eye: News Conference: Dane County Food Pantry Leaders on Food Insecurity [Signup required for a free account to watch]

A coalition of more than 30 Dane County food pantries, including WayForward, have released a letter to the community, sounding an alarm about the rising demand for assistance and the need for both immediate community support and longer-term solutions to fill the gap. Please read and share this message with your networks!

 

Dane County, we need your help.

As Dane County food pantries, we serve thousands of people in our community each day. Our shared mission is to make sure our neighbors don’t face hunger.

But we are facing a serious challenge.

Visits to many of our food pantries have more than doubled in the past two years. We know some of the reasons why. Food prices are higher and rent is rising more here than anywhere else in the country. Federal assistance that helped people make ends meet during the pandemic is gone. We are also the fastest-growing county in Wisconsin. Nearly 13% of kids in Dane County were food insecure in 2022, up from 7.5% in 2021 — and that was before our food pantries started seeing drastic increases in demand.

We’re also spending more on food than ever before.

The options we have to keep our shelves stocked continue to shift and are more limited than they were just a few years ago. Buying food in bulk is more expensive now and our traditional suppliers of free food can’t keep up with the demand. Permanent changes to the food system over the last few years mean there is less surplus available for our food pantries.

These trends make it challenging to keep food on our shelves.

Food pantries have worked hard to stretch our resources, space, and teams as far as possible. The pressure will rise in the coming weeks as kids have less access to free food with schools out for the summer.

You can help.

Making a financial donation to your local food pantry enables them to purchase needed food. We welcome food drives and volunteers, too. We know there is no quick or easy fix to food insecurity and the structural and economic factors that drive it. So we urge our local, county, state, and federal officials, as well as other community leaders, to help find long-term solutions to food insecurity. We can’t do it alone.

This is a critical moment for us to come together for our neighbors.

When our community supports local food pantries, we are stronger. With access to food, kids can learn, families can work, and seniors can stay healthy. It will take all of us to meet this challenge and make sure our neighbors don’t experience hunger. We are committed to doing all we can. We are asking you to join us.

In partnership with you,

Allied Food Pantry
Babies & Beyond of WI, Inc.
Badger Prairie Needs Network
Bayview Community Center Pantry
Catholic Multicultural Center
Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin
Deerfield Community Center
East Madison Community Center
Extended Hands Pantry
Fountain of Life Covenant Church
Good Shepherd Food Pantry
Goodman Community Center’s Fritz Food Pantry
Grace Food Pantry
Great Lakes Dryhootch Madison
Heights Unlimited Community Resource Center (Mazomanie)
Islamic Community of Madison
Kennedy Heights Food Pantry
Lakeview Food Pantry
Lussier Community Education Center – Food Pantry
Mission Nutrition DeForest
Neighborhood House Community Center Food Pantry
Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Mt. Horeb
Oregon Area Food Pantry
OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center
Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin
Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Madison Food Pantry
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Food Pantry
Stoughton Food Pantry
Stoughton United Methodist Church Food Pantry
Sun Prairie Food Pantry at Sunshine Place
The Keep Food Pantry
The River Food Pantry
Vivent Health Food Pantry
Waunakee Food Pantry
WayForward Resources
Willy Street Pantry at the Social Justice Center

GIVE TODAY

 

Joel Baker, Doubled Up Housing Case Manager, recently joined WayForward’s team after relocating to Wisconsin from Kentucky. He assists doubled up families who enroll in our Connections Program by providing housing search assistance, advocacy services, case planning, and referrals. He has worked in a number of roles serving families in his career, including Head Start (serving low income families with children from birth to 5 years old), therapeutic foster care, and as a teacher working with at-risk youth. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from Western Michigan University, post baccalaureate Elementary Teaching Certification from Oakland University and a masters in education from Western Kentucky University. Joel has raised twin boys who are now young adults and in his free time enjoys e-biking and traveling, including van camping.

WayForward is proud to welcome four new members to our board this month – Chris Roth, Jennifer Wagner, Alex Gibson and Kate Nisbet (pictured above from left to right).

Roth is the Chief Marketing Officer at UW Health and also serves on the board for Ronald McDonald House Charities – Madison.

Wagner is the Director of Eligibility & Enrollment with the national non-profit advocacy organization the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and has spent her career working on programs that affect low-income families.

Gibson is Managing Director at Smart Solutions, Inc. and has worked with non-profit organizations for over 20 years. He started with WayForward as a volunteer in addition to more recently serving on a board committee.

Nisbet is part of the Client Solutions Team at Forward Health Group, Inc. and has worked in the health care industry for her entire career, along with serving as a board member for the Middleton High School Athletic Booster Club, Middleton High Band & Orchestra Parent Association and Stonefield Neighborhood Association.

Last month we said a heartfelt thank you and goodbye to two board members. Pastor Connie Matye (left) joined the board in the heart of the pandemic. Her passion for serving was a steady force throughout her term, which was full of more twists and turns than we could have ever imagined! Tricia Nolan (right) served on the board for 9 years, most recently as board chair. We are grateful for her near decade of compassionate service and her leadership in helping the organization through our rebrand to WayForward Resources.

[Photo above: The pantry shelves at the end of the day.]

 

For over 40 years, we have provided food for people in our community without ever turning anyone away who met our eligibility requirements.

For the first time in our history, we can no longer meet the need with our current resources.

We are giving out the most food in our history, caused by large-scale factors occurring across the country, some of which are felt even more acutely here. These include the large rise in housing costs, inflation in food prices, and the end of Covid-era supports. We have placed limits on how much food people can take, but we are still running out of food every week. The photo above was captured after our Wednesday morning pantry hours last week.

Over the past two years, we have seen constant and drastic increase in demand. Visits to our food pantry have nearly tripled in that time and are now distributing the equivalent of 100,000 meals each month. The impact of this increased demand has also been felt by our partners who historically have provided food to us for free or at reduced prices. In addition, changes in the food system have resulted in less food surplus. This means that we are distributing significantly more food while significantly less food is available to us for free. Just five years ago, we spent very little money on food — receiving enough from partners, rescues and community donations to cover most of our needs.

We now estimate that we would need to spend twice what we originally budgeted to spend on food to meet the ongoing need.

This critical gap exists despite meeting our fundraising budget last year. Our staff has worked hard to make up the difference as demand increased — secured new grants, found new food rescue partners, reached out to individuals and businesses to secure support. But it is no longer enough.

Referring people to other food pantries is not the answer, since they are all facing the same critical challenges we are. It is a very difficult and disturbing truth for all of us. There is not a quick fix. This is not a problem that we created and it’s not a problem we can address alone. We need to come together as a community to explore new ideas and solutions. We also need increased support right now to buy food and bridge this gap. 

Here’s what you can do TODAY:

While the situation is serious, it is not hopeless. We know our community has both the resources and generosity to address this gap. And we remain confident in our ability to effectively provide services. We believe that together, with our community’s support, we can make sure people don’t have to experience hunger.

Please reach out to Leslie Huber, our Strategic Engagement Director, leslie@wayforwardresources.org if you would like to talk more about how you can support us in meeting this challenge. 

WayForward is celebrating Global Volunteer Month in April and the volunteers who give their time and talents to build food security and housing stability in our community. Last year, more than 1,100 WayForward volunteers gave nearly 25,000 hours to support our programs.

Meet Mark Walther, who volunteers three mornings a week in WayForward’s food pantry warehouse.

Volunteer role: Mark started volunteering at WayForward a little more than a year ago after retiring. He tried out a range of roles before deciding he most enjoyed working in the food pantry warehouse, where he unloads and sorts deliveries three mornings a week. At the end of last year, he got a notification about how many volunteer hours he had accumulated and picked up even more shifts to reach 500 hours of volunteering in 2023. 

How did you get started? My wife is younger than I am, and she’s still working. So she was working from home and I had to be very quiet. So I needed to find something to do. … so I tried everything. I stocked, I cleaned, I went out on the truck for rescues, and I decided that the warehouse was where I belong.

What keeps you coming back? I enjoy the physical work. I enjoy the fact it’s a reason to get up in the morning and go somewhere. Getting up in the morning and having breakfast and reading the paper at home – I would still be in bed right now. So this gets me up and going and gets on with the day, so it’s good for me.  It’s also great to be social with other people. I’ve kind of coalesced a group on Wednesday and Friday – I call them my crew.

What has surprised you about volunteering at WayForward? I’m amazed at how much food comes in and goes out here. A contribution that comes in the front door today will be gone today. And you can’t ignore the need. They’re lined up here at 7:30 in the morning when I arrive and it doesn’t open until 10. 

What would you say to encourage someone else to volunteer at WayForward? You’re doing a good deed. You’re doing something for other people, so that’s always important. But I think it’s good for you to get out and be social and to do some work, and everyone has something they can contribute. People come here from so many different backgrounds, it’s just interesting to find out what people do. I’m always asking people, ‘What did you do before you were here?’ And then I’m amazed.