WayForward Resources Executive Director Ellen Carlson wrote a guest column published online by the Wisconsin State Journal that addresses the dramatic increase in need food pantries in Dane County are seeing and how the community can help.
“Visits to our food pantry, which serves all of Dane County, have more than tripled since January 2022. We are now distributing the equivalent of 125,000 meals each month,” Carlson wrote in the column that will appear in the print edition on Wednesday, Nov. 22.
Carlson shared that the demand shows now sign of going away and that experts point to pandemic-era support, general inflation and the steep increase in housing costs that cause people to focus even more of their income on paying rent.
“We have never turned anyone away, but we have had to put some limits on the amount of food people can take,” Carlson wrote. “We worry about how we and other local food pantries can continue to ensure that everyone in our community has access to nutritious food.”
In addition Carlson addresses the misconception is that food pantries operate mainly with state or federal support. She notes that only a small amount of food comes in through the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program. WayForward stocks its shelves by relying on a complex web of systems and collaborations. That includes strategic partnerships with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, surplus from local grocery and convenience stores, as well as monetary and food donations from businesses, foundations, churches and individuals.
“Food pantries need your support now more than ever. Donations of money, food and your time can all make an immediate difference,” she wrote, adding that she wants people in our community to know food pantries will be there to prove a safety net.
“We must come together to make sure food pantries can continue to keep our neighbors from experiencing hunger,” she wrote.
The Mulcahy Family is providing a #GivingTuesday challenge gift this year in hopes of motivating future generations to give back.
“WayForward as Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) provided a way for my family to participate in our community’s care for those who found themselves in need of support,” says Patricia Mulcahy. “When our children were young, I served on the MOM Board of Directors representing my parish and provided transportation for an elderly woman through the Project for Older People. Over the years the organization’s outreach has evolved and broadened and the community has continued to step up. Our children now have children of their own and this gift is to encourage them to support others through their communities.”
Join The Mulcahy Family on #GivingTuesday to help build a community where everyone can thrive.Give Now
ReMitts, an amazing community partner to WayForward Resources and other food pantries in our community, was recently featured on NBC 15’s morning show with reporter Mackenzie Davis.
Founder Janet Tupy and lead volunteer Ann Nelson shared the story of how the group turns old wool sweaters into colorful and warm mittens, benefiting food pantries in Dane County.
For $40 a pair, the proceeds go directly to three local food pantries, including WayForward.
“No one’s more astonished than I am at how well this has gone over and how much good it’s done for our community,” Tupy said in the interview. “I think it’s great.”
Nelson said each pair takes about three hours to make. “But we know that 100 percent of our effort is going to go toward the food pantry and that makes it worth it,” she said.
WayForward Communications Manager Jenny Price joined Tupy and Nelson to share information about how the need for food in our community continues to grow.
“Since January 2022, the monthly visits for our pantry are up more than 200 percent and that means we’re distributing the equivalent of about 125,000 meals per month from our pantry,” Price told Davis.
You can find ReMitts at WayForward’s Holiday Art Market at FCI on December 2 and 3.
For T Sneed, helping kids get a strong start to the school year provided major motivation.
This year, Sneed and their co-workers at Exact Sciences held a drive that collected 239 pounds of school supplies for WayForward’s Back to School Program, which helped fill backpacks that went out to hundreds of students this year. Sneed, Administrator of Laboratory Service Training at Exact Sciences in Madison, is also a new member of WayForward’s Leadership Council, which brings together community members to help support and advocate for the organization’s mission.
“WayForward is a dynamic nonprofit organization which mobilizes the Dane County community to address barriers to accessing healthy food among other natural supports,” Sneed says. “WayForward’s incredible team offers pleasant experiences to both volunteers looking to transform lives and program recipients seeking resources to meet their immediate needs.”
Give now on #GivingTuesday to ensure that children in our community have what they need to thrive.Give Now
For Stephanie Lemancik and Rebecca Johnson, volunteering in WayForward’s garden was the seed for a strong, intergenerational friendship.
The two scientists first got to know each other as members of a “Green Committee” at their company, Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has been a longtime supporter of WayForward through food drives. They started volunteering for WayForward’s garden five years ago as part of the group, sparked by Johnson’s idea to garden to help others.
Over time, the group got smaller and just the two of them remained. Lemancik and Johnson have volunteered every week of gardening season since they began in 2018, except for days when the weather is too hot or severe to safely get out there. Both say they bonded over their love of volunteering and enjoyment of learning more about gardening along the way.
“I never considered myself to be a green thumb,” says Lemancik (at left in photo), who credits Dan Johnson, WayForward’s lead garden volunteer, for his mentoring and coaching. “We meet at the garden and he gives us our marching orders.”
The work is still challenging on some days, but both women say it’s worth it.
“I think back to when we’re focused on watering those little pepper plants back in July, and it’s like 90 degrees and we’re miserable,” Lemancik says. “And then we see these tiny plants growing up and producing so much food. When you look back over the course of the months and how much things have grown and changed, it’s such a beautiful journey.”
“It’s just such an important initiative to support the people in our community, even if we never meet them personally,” she says.
Johnson (at right in photo) says the beauty of WayForward’s garden – and what it produces to provide people in our community access to nutritious food – is part of what keeps her coming back season after season.
“I think it’s our duty in life to give to others and this is a perfect example of where our hard work actually can improve someone else’s health,” Johnson says. “That brings a huge amount of joy and happiness and satisfaction.”
On #GivingTuesday, join Stephanie and Rebecca in being part of building a community where everyone has access to nutritious food.Give Now
Moving to Dane County promised a brighter future for David*, a single father with two young children.
He had been accepted to UW-Madison to study special education, a field with strong employment prospects after graduation. David also secured a full-time job to provide for his kids, Michael and Sara. But despite working day and night juggling school and work, David was in danger of falling behind on rent and losing the stable home he was building for his children.
Rent has risen faster here than anywhere else in the country, which threatened the dream David was working so hard to reach. A friend referred him to WayForward Resources, where a case manager connected David with rental assistance from our Housing Stability Program so he could maintain a home for his young children.
WayForward provided David with much-needed relief and peace of mind that allowed him to focus on getting his degree and taking care of his kids.
Thanks to our programs, David believes our community is where his dreams for his young family can become a reality. “I moved to Madison for a better and happier life; we felt as if we fit in.”
*name and identifying details changed
You can help make a difference on #GivingTuesday for families like David’s. Join us in building a community where everyone can thrive!Give Now
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 WayForwards’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.”
*names and identifying details changed
On #GivingTuesday, we can come together to build a community where everyone can thrive.Give Now
Kathleen and Roger* were overwhelmed when they came to WayForward for assistance.
Both in their 80s, the couple faced thousands of dollars in medical bills from Roger’s cancer treatment denied by their insurance plan.
Their WayForward case manager referred them to a patient advocate to assist with navigating their health insurance appeals, offering Kathleen some much-needed hope. She also connected them to the Aging and Disability Resource Center to learn more about potential eligibility for public benefits.
Kathleen was relieved to get some help and to learn from her WayForward case manager that they could use the food pantry to make ends meet and access nutritious food when Roger needs it most.
“I went last week and it was wonderful,” she told her case manager. “We got four apples and my husband ate one every day.”
WayForward’s food pantry is open to all Dane County residents who need it and the number of visits has risen 237% since January 2022.
*names and identifying details changed
We can transform our community when everyone has access to nutritious food and stable housing. Join us on #GivingTuesday!
Lou Ann Wagner has always volunteered and believes in giving back to her community
As a single mom working full time and supporting her three young children, she made sure to set enough aside to buy holiday gifts for people who had less than she had. “She carved out money to do that when we didn’t have much,” says her oldest daughter, Jennifer Murphy.
Lou Ann’s connection to WayForward (formerly Middleton Outreach Ministry) goes all the way back to when the family moved to Middleton in 1981 and joined St. Bernard Catholic Church. Jennifer recalls her mother doing a number of jobs in support of WayForward’s work, including years of stopping on her way home from work to do an hour of volunteer data entry. She has continued to support the organization’s mission over the years.
But Lou Ann’s volunteer service and her life came to a halt in August 2022, when she fell off a ladder at home and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Her injury was life-threatening, requiring extensive interventions, rehabilitation and therapies. As her recovery progressed, Lou Ann’s desire to help others kicked back in. Even though she wasn’t really “allowed” to be on her computer without support, she would not be deterred.
“I signed myself up to volunteer” she said, after remembering her log-in and password to WayForward’s volunteer site. Since she wasn’t yet cleared to drive herself, Jennifer found herself recruited to volunteer with her. For the last year, the duo has been part of the “clean team” – Lou Ann vacuuming and tidying up the Clothing Center and Jennifer sweeping and mopping in the food pantry and the lobby of the building.
“This work is a reminder of how many unseen roles matter to WayForward,” Jennifer says. “Even ‘invisible’ jobs can be so valuable. If I am someone walking into this space and it’s clean, that means something.”
Both women consider their time volunteering as a key part of Lou Ann’s recovery from her injuries. “I’m feeling really good,” says Lou Ann, who no longer needs a ride from her daughter because she can once again drive herself to WayForward.
“This means a lot to us because we see how long she’s been giving back here,” Jennifer says.
“It is right in our backyard,” Lou Ann says.
“And people need help.” Jennifer adds.
Their time volunteering together adds to Lou Ann’s legacy of helping others and they hope others feel inspired to do the same. “There’s so many ways to be helpful,” Jennifer says.
You can join Lou Ann and Jennifer in building a community where everyone has access to nutritious food by being part of #GivingTuesday at WayForward!Give Now
Gina Patel, President & CEO of Patel Kwan Consultancy, has a strong and personal motivation for supporting WayForward Resources.
Patel’s company donated and packed 35 kindergarten backpacks for this year’s Back to School Program. Members of her team also volunteered to organize school supplies and get them ready for distribution, joined by her own kindergartner, Hari (in photo at left with Patel Kwan intern Grace Liew).
“Way Forward provides much-needed resources to families in our area,” says Patel (at left in photo at top).
“I am originally from the UK, but as a child I received free school lunches, uniform, etc. As a family we received about 40 GBP per week in ‘benefits’ to use for food, heat, transport, and anything else needed. That is approximately what it ended up costing for these backpacks including supplies. Having this extra cost burden can mean the difference between families going without heat or food and being able to send their kids to school with backpacks ready for the school year. There is a lot of drive in our community to support one another, so thank you, WayForward for facilitating this.”