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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. 

When Carlito first heard about WayForward, he and his wife, Erin, were out of options for how they would continue to pay rent and have enough food to eat.

A temporary job Carlito was working had come to an end. Meanwhile a more permanent one he had targeted for his next step was so far not offering him full-time hours, so he worked when he could. One day, Carlito almost ran out of gas to get to work before he could afford to fill up the tank again. In the middle of this stressful run of events that followed the loss of regular income, two women he knew told him WayForward might be able to help. Carlito was skeptical. “That doesn’t exist,” he told them.

Still, the couple reached out and connected with WayForward, where a case manager worked with them to provide one-time eviction prevention funds to cover their rent and allow them to stay in their home. They also began visiting the food pantry to help fill the gaps in their budget and have appreciated choosing from a variety of proteins that they ration carefully — from chicken to chorizo to bacon. “Those are staples for our dinners for six days,” he says.

Carlito says the experience has changed his life. He’s never felt more welcomed than he does at WayForward by staff and volunteers. Rather than judgment, he feels support. “You’re sustaining us and you could care less about our race, religion, or political affiliation,” he says. “Working with WayForward was purely a lifeline. It gave me hope in humanity.”

WayForward’s Housing Stability Program is focused on eviction prevention and is full of success stories like Carlito’s. We provided financial assistance to more than 600 households last year to program participants who received one-time funds to cover rent, utility bills or unexpected auto repairs.

When you support WayForward, you join us in making it possible for more people in our community to stay in their homes and get the nutritious food they need. Your donation today can help make an immediate difference and will be used where it’s most needed.

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 Jamie Russell, one of our newer volunteers in WayForward’s food pantry.

Volunteer role: Jamie started volunteering six weeks ago in the food pantry warehouse, where he helps unload, sort and stock food for distribution to the community.

How did you get started? We lived in Middleton for years. We were financial supporters, but working full time. I recently retired, so I thought it was time for me to start doing something. And there was an email that came – we’re on the email list for WayForward – and it said “We’re looking for volunteers.” I thought, “Might as well give it a shot.”

What has surprised you about volunteering at WayForward? The surprise is how much effort that goes into this. From the outside, it doesn’t look like it’s as much effort as it actually is. It takes a lot of sweat.

What would you say to encourage someone else to volunteer at WayForward? My wife just retired this week, so I’m telling her this is a great opportunity. In fact, I saw a couple of people I know she knows here. I would tell anybody give it a shot … it’s a rewarding thing to do and it gets you out of the house and you’re doing something.

 

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 Violet Goscha, one of our newer volunteers, who gives her time in WayForward’s clothing center.

Volunteer role: Violet is a junior at Middleton High School who started volunteering in February at WayForward’s Clothing Center, sorting and organizing donations to put out on the floor for guests to choose from. Clothing is available for free to Dane County residents.

How did you get started?  I’ve lived and grew up in Middleton, and so I kind of always knew about WayForward. I wanted an organized, well-structured type of volunteering. And so I just reached out and it was a super simple process.

What keeps you coming back? It’s been a really great experience so far. The most fun thing I think about volunteering, especially in like the clothing center, is that I get to see the range of donations that we’re able to accept. Being able to place it in a way that people can come in and feel at home, and where it’s like you’re shopping and we organize it for them … this is something I can do.

What has surprised you about volunteering at WayForward?  I was really intimidated going in, but then I started and the community here is what really surprised me. I walked through the door, and everyone was like, “Oh my gosh, a new person! Can I meet her?” It’s the best part of it, because I get to stay here and not only help people, but also interact with community people and meet new friends.

What would you tell a friend who is considering volunteering? I think the biggest reason why I would say someone should volunteer here is because you get a family-like environment where you can help people and it’s organized and it’s so perfect for a schedule for a high schooler like me. … Having a scheduled, almost job-like environment helps a lot. So I love recommending it to people who are my age, in high school and just really wanting to reach out and find a community.

Many people in our community think of WayForward Resources as a food pantry.

While WayForward (formerly Middleton Outreach Ministry) is home to one of the largest food pantries in Dane County, it also operates housing stability programs that provide case management, referrals and financial assistance. This support helps families stay in their homes so they avoid the trauma of homelessness. Last year we provided assistance to more than 600 households.

There is a housing crisis in our community. The most significant shortages are among rental units affordable for the lowest-income renters, according to the city of Madison’s most recent Housing Snapshot Report. In fact, a recent study found that Madison is the fifth-most competitive small rental market in the United States. 

Why? There is simply not enough housing to accommodate the growth. Madison is on the cusp of a population explosion. The metro area is expected to add 115,000 residents between 2020 and 2050, a 42% increase. Housing experts project the community will need at least 10,000 new homes every five years to keep up, and the development of new housing has not kept pace with these projections. 

One of the challenges to building enough housing is the high cost of building new apartments, driven by competition for land, drastic construction cost increases since the pandemic, limited federal funds for supporting affordable housing, and zoning restrictions. As a result, the affordable housing sector has seen an average cost increase of around 30%, according to industry leaders.

Projects that secured low-income housing tax credits since 2019 have found themselves facing unexpected financial shortfalls, leading many to seek additional funding sources to bridge these gaps. Affordable housing developers need to find money to subsidize rental costs on behalf of future residents in addition to money to build the building.

One of the ways that WayForward Resources supports the creation of more affordable housing in our community is by partnering with developers who are building through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. WayForward currently has active partnerships with two developers. We also provide housing stability and food security supports to residents at 15 different LIHTC developments in our housing service area of West Madison, Middleton and Cross Plains (our food pantry serves all of Dane County).  

In the fall, WayForward joined the celebration of the opening of Uno Terrace, one of west Madison’s most recent LIHTC projects, developed with Northpointe Development, under the leadership of Principal Sean O’Brien. The housing project on Mineral Point Road has 64 units and is designed to serve those making between 30% and 80% of Dane County’s median household income. 

Most importantly, the rents in the building don’t exceed more than 30% of a tenant’s wages. Affordable housing costs less than 30% of household income, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The units are located on the Bus Rapid Transit line that is under construction and within walking distance to grocery stores and schools.

At Uno Terrace, Housing Stability Director Taylor Rozman (at right in the photo) worked with the city of Madison, the developer, and the property manager to pave the way for Case Manager Claire Baker (at left) to support low-income new residents as they moved into their new apartments. WayForward also provides ongoing case management and access to other services, including our food pantry. This is one of many similar partnerships WayForward has in the community, including in Middleton.

The development even incorporated the 1890s stone farm house — previously a Uno Pizzeria restaurant — and converted the local west side landmark into a community room. Over the Thanksgiving weekend last fall, according to a recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal, several families reserved the space for their holiday celebrations.

Celebrating major events at home in community with others. That’s the ultimate reflection of WayForward’s vision of building a community where everyone has the stability to thrive.

Some of the people who look to our food pantry to help stretch their budgets get to know the staff and volunteers over time.

One of our guests — who has been visiting weekly — shared that he recently had cancer surgery.

He spoke about his battle to regain his health with our food access managers and how important the pantry was to him through it all.

“It helps to feel like you have people standing behind you, and you all did that for me,” he said.

We’re distributing the equivalent of more than 120,000 meals per month an our food pantry logged 10,647 visits last month, more than triple from two years ago.

Community support has been a critical part of how WayFoward and other food pantries in Dane County meet the need.

You can make a difference and help us continue to meet the need by planning a food drive, shopping directly from our Amazon Wish List or donating today.

After relocating to Wisconsin a few years ago to live near family, Marcia Sokol-Anderson’s goal was to give back in her retirement.

When in-person volunteering during the pandemic was not a comfortable option, she found a way to leverage a lifelong hobby to support people in her new community.

Sokol-Anderson, who first started knitting at age 10, had been in search of a new project once she finished making baby blankets for her new grandson. So she started buying skeins of yarn for knitting hats to donate to WayForward’s Clothing Center to help people stay warm during the winter months.

Last year she made 80 machine-washable hats.

“I live near WayForward, which is clearly a wonderful organization,” she says. “It was a no-brainer to donate the hats to their clothing center, especially for women who face Wisconsin winters! I plan to keep on knitting, and supplying hats for quite a while.”

WayForward was proud to nominate Roots & Wings as Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation and Christian Huber for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy for the National Philanthropy Day Awards.

Both were honored at a ceremony at the Overture Center in November.

Roots & Wings Foundation is an essential partner that has generously donated nearly $500,000 in unrestricted funds to WayForward, increasing their funding over time to reflect the increased needs for food and housing access.

“The trust Roots & Wings places in us to carry out our mission is incredibly valuable,” says WayForward Executive Director Ellen Carlson, who accepted the award on behalf of the foundation.

Huber, now 14, started his journey as a philanthropist when he was eight years old, operating a cookie and lemonade stand in the summers to raise money for nonprofits.

The last few years, Christian has supported WayForward. “I like helping so many people be part of doing something good,” he says.

Lia and Sofia* had only a few things in common when they first met.

They were both mothers of young children and had come from the same country. They were also doubled up together in the apartment of someone they did not know very well.

With support from their case manager, they decided to become roommates when they enrolled in WayForward’s Connections program. The move allowed the two families to leave their overcrowded living situation.

In June 2022, WayForward launched the Connections Program to focus on people who are living doubled up without housing of their own. Since then, 16 families have graduated from the program and no longer need financial assistance from WayForward. Now, with help from a new pilot program grant from the Dane County Department of Human Services, Connections is expanding to help more double-up households find stability.

Over the last year, Lia and Sofia worked with the Connections case manager on budgeting, tools for being reliable tenants and understanding lease agreements. The case manager works with program participants in obtaining stable housing, and helps them navigate issues like a lack of credit and rental history. Households stay in the program for 12 months, with financial assistance decreasing over the course of the year as participants become self-sufficient in their new housing.

Both women have found work and more recently, they parted ways as roommates to move into housing of their own. They remain friends and recently shared updates with their case manager.

“We will always be grateful for your support,” Lia wrote. “We are all very stable and grateful to you for all the hard work.”

“I wanted to let you know that I have already moved with my son to our new apartment and everything is going well, thank God,” Sofia wrote. “We have work, health and stability. We are very grateful for all the support you have given us since the first day we met you.”

*names and identifying details changed

WayForward joined five other large Dane County food pantries last week to share the story of the rising need in the community. Household visits are up 112% over the last two years and pantry leaders shared concerns about how to continue to keep up with demand. “This serves as an emergency resource for individuals and families who are just not making enough money to cover their basic needs. Many of those seeking assistance are working full-time jobs but still struggle to make ends meet,” WayForward Executive Director Ellen Carlson told WKOW TV.  The increase in need also received coverage in  The Capital Times and on WMTV-15 News. “People in this community are generous, so that’s why we’re sharing this story,” WayForward Communications Manager Jenny Price told WMTV.

Middleton Times Tribune
Demand at Dane County pantries

WKOW 27
Dane Co. food pantries struggle with 112% increase in demand

The Capital Times
Dane County food pantries say demand surged to record highs

WMTV-15
Dane Co. food pantries seek community support as demand skyrockets

Demand at Dane Co. food pantries jumps to 112% over last two years