For the last year or more, we’ve kept you informed about the rising numbers at our food pantry. With your support, we continue to meet the need in our community despite the challenges we face.
No one is turned away who needs food.
Everyone who comes to the pantry can choose from a variety of healthy foods and essential items. What is in stock changes from week to week, partially depending on what food we receive that week. We receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank, Community Action Coalition and local retailers who pass on surplus items, along with our gardens, community food drives and your individual donations.
All of these are critical sources of food for the pantry and allow us to meet the growing need, with more than 147,000 pounds of donated food coming in last year. We also received more than 200,000 pounds of rescued items donated by local retailers that provide more options to our guests and at the same time help reduce food waste.
Visits per month are up 197% since January 2022, because of large scale factors that are also impacting other food pantries, including additional federal food and rental assistance put into place during the pandemic coming to an end earlier this year.
Due to increased demand, we are purchasing significantly more food now than in the past, buying more than 130,000 pounds last year.
We’re grateful to have you join us in meeting this increased demand. Any amount of food donated by the community is important, because that is food we don’t have to purchase.
Whether you organize a food drive with your co-workers or neighbors, shop our Top 10 list and bring food to donate or purchase items directly from our Amazon wish list, all of these actions help ensure that people in our community have access to nutritious food.
Join us in building a community where everyone can thrive.
Ryan and Lexy* began visiting WayForward’s food pantry after he was laid off from a marketing firm where he had a promising career path. Lexy is in treatment for cancer and has significant medical bills. The couple is using all of their savings to maintain the health insurance coverage from Ryan’s former employer while he looks for another job. The pantry is a critical piece of their stability, allowing them to stay in their apartment.
Food from the pantry has also been a lifeline for Ana and her two children since she arrived here from Venezuela — a country in crisis — to stay with her sister. Ana’s husband has been working in Arizona for the past year and will join them as soon as he can find a job here. In the meantime, WayForward’s food pantry is how Ana ensures that her kids have enough nutritious food to eat.
Jade was struggling to pay rent after unexpectedly needing to care for her infant grandson.
She came to WayForward for financial assistance once the costs of caring for a growing baby hit her monthly budget. Jade regularly visits the food pantry to help bridge the gap, so she can provide a safe and stable home for her grandchild.
Everyone who comes to the pantry has a story that is uniquely their own — what they all share is the increased stability that comes from access to nutritious food. Together, we’re providing food to more people than ever before in our 40-year history.
Demand has doubled in the last year due in part to pandemic-era food and rental assistance from the federal government coming to an end. In addition, the cost of housing continues to rise at record levels – a recent national study found that Madison has the fastest-rising rent of any major city in the United States.
We are proud that we continue to meet this need as we grow and change significantly post-pandemic. We are using more donor dollars to purchase food than we did in the past and we work hard to make strategic choices about what and when to buy to maximize our purchasing power. Your partnership is critical to how we’ll sustain what we offer and ensure that everyone who walks through our door has access to a fully-stocked pantry.
When you give to WayForward, you join a community effort along with other donors, partners, volunteers and staff to provide access to nutritious, culturally specific food for children and adults in Dane County. All donations will be used for the greatest need across our food security and housing stability programs.GIVE TODAY
*names and identifying details changed
Hunger Action Month is a nationwide initiative to raise awareness of hunger, encourage people to take action towards supporting those facing hunger and address the systemic inequities that can lead to someone being food insecure.
We’re sharing four ways you can get involved and help make a difference.
#1 Donate to your local food pantry
- Shop our Top 10 list and check with other Dane County pantries for their most urgent needs, including: Badger Prairie Needs Network, Goodman Community Center Fritz Food Pantry, The River Food Pantry, Society of St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry.
#2 Wear orange
- Get ready for Go Orange Day on Friday, September 15, and invite others to join us in building a community where everyone has access to nutritious food and the stability to thrive.
#3 Learn more about food insecurity
- Listen to Feeding America’s podcast “Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger”
- Read this recent story from Wisconsin Watch: “Support for food insecurity rose during the pandemic, but Wisconsin families now left with patchwork of solutions to hunger”
- Get the basics on Food Security from the Wisconsin Food Security Project at UW-Madison
#4 Organize a food drive!
- Food drives are one of the ways we keep our shelves stocked with a variety of options for people who shop the pantry. You can organize a drive in your office, school, sports team, faith community, neighborhood or other group. Get started now
Last year brought many milestones, but the most striking is the number of people we served across all of our programs — 6,665. It’s more than at any time in our 40-year history, and it speaks to the way we have adapted and responded to the challenges people in our community face in seeking a path to stability. You can learn more about our year in our online annual report.
Our biggest shift of the year was resuming in-person shopping in our food pantry after the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to operate exclusively through drive-thru and deliveries for over two years. The number of visits to the pantry — more than 60,000 this year — has steadily increased since then, with no sign of reversing. As a result, expenses for our food security programs nearly doubled during the year.
We also saw increased demand for our housing stability programs and we provided housing stability support to more than 600 households in our community.
We marked the first anniversary of our Connections Program, which helps people in doubled-up living situations find and maintain housing of their own.
As pandemic-era supports continued to fade, our case managers worked with families and individuals to prevent eviction and connect them with critical services. Other programs like our Seniors Program, Clothing Center and Seasonal Programs relieved financial pressure so families could focus on other expenses.
Even as demand increased, our community responded through individual and group volunteering, food drives, generous financial donations and more. Your partnership and support through this rapid period of change is what allowed us to meet critical needs and work to create food and housing security for people in our community. Together, we can make sure that next year even more people have the stability necessary to thrive.
For one kindergartner, there was never a question which backpack he was going to choose.
From the moment he stepped through the door at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, he spotted the backpack featuring the hedgehog made famous by a video game and yelled out his name with joy. His excitement grew as he examined the backpack’s features close up. “Mom! There’s a lunch box. That’s so cool.”
His decision was one of hundreds made last week by parents and kids confronted with rows of brand new backpacks stocked with supplies. This year’s Back to School program provided backpacks and supplies to 629 students from 4K to college. The collective effort to help students have what they need to be ready to learn is fueled by financial support and donations from individuals, churches and businesses in our community.
Students and their parents walked in with curiosity and, in some cases, uncertainty about which backpack to choose. “Oh no, this is hard,” said more than one parent. They walked out with smiles and hope for the year ahead.
Some parents deployed a quick phone call or Facetime to determine what might be the best option. One posed the all-important question to her child over the phone: “Super Mario or Minecraft?”
The answer was Super Mario, and the mom who picked up that backpack along with three more for her other children marveled at the room full of choices. “We participated in the program the last two years and it has just been truly wonderful for our family,” she said. “It makes our kids so excited to start their school year.”
WayForward volunteer Lynn Metz has helped collect, organize and distribute backpacks and school supplies to hundreds of students over the last decade.
As the lead volunteer for the Back to School program, Metz spends a lot of her summer thinking about the first day of school and what it means for kids to have what they need when they walk into their classrooms.
“There’s more need out there in our small community than people realize,” Metz says. “This brings to light the fact that kids need support to start off on the right foot.”
The massive organizational effort comes together with financial support and donations from individuals, churches and businesses. “The community is amazing,” Metz says. “We have a company that’s packing first grade backpacks, we have another company that’s packing kindergarten backpacks. I love the involvement.”
For Metz, the highlight is the day students arrive to pick out their backpacks. “No one that comes in has any idea how much work was involved in the program. Everything is organized by grade, and the backpacks are just sitting there ready to go,” she says. “I love seeing that.”
To support this year’s Back to School Program, visit our seasonal support page.
Springs has a strong history as a community partner and their role in this transition was fitting.
Some of WayForward’s donation barrels originally came from Springs — many years ago they received them with product deliveries and they later repurposed them as food barrels for company food drives.
Want to organize a food drive? Visit our drives page!
Our Connections housing program helps families move out of doubled-up living situations. Your support helps the program provide security deposits, household items and other support to ensure stability. One participant, who was able to move with her family into an apartment of their own before the birth of her second child, shared her experience in the program with her Connections case manager, Nicole Verhagen.
What did it mean to bring your new baby home to your very own apartment after having to double up with another family for a period of time?
Having our own space has meant that our baby can grow up in a better environment where there is tranquility, peace and joy.
What are the most important ways WayForward has helped your family?
Everything they have done has been very important, because they have been with us unconditionally. They helped me a lot during all the stages of my pregnancy and until the birth
of my baby and I will forever be thankful for this opportunity. It has been a relief to have this unconditional help.
How do you feel about your family’s future now?
By connecting with WayForward one finds a horizon, an unconditional help. I feel very happy, with many expectations, eager to move forward and with the hope that in the future we will be in a position where we can help other families with that same compassion that we have received.
What are your dreams for yourselves and your kids going forward?
My dream is that my children will grow in a stable environment, so that they can focus on their studies and that they can grow as people with good values. It is my hope that they fill themselves with good knowledge and
compassion so that they can have a good future.
Circle of Hope, WayForward’s group of monthly givers, makes it easy to increase the impact of your donations over a longer period of time.
Are you a current donor? For a few dollars more per month, you can provide a critical source of sustainable income that allows us to deliver food and housing assistance where most needed. A first-time donor? For the cost of several lattes per week, you can help more neighbors remain in housing and keep our pantry shelves stocked with nutritious food.
“We give to WayForward because we truly believe their efforts help improve the lives of our community members. By giving on a regular monthly schedule, our hope is that WayForward will be able to plan their resource allocation more accurately when looking at future financial commitments,” says a Circle of Hope donor. “We feel blessed to have an organization like WayForward in our community because helping one of us helps all of us!”
Join us in creating food access and housing stability with your monthly donation. Click the DONATE button and choose a monthly amount that is comfortable for you. Thank you for your support!JOIN CIRCLE OF HOPE
Carmen Karvelis, our new Food Access Manager, leads WayForward’s food pantry and develops and maintains partnerships with volunteers, donors, and community agencies.
Before joining WayForward earlier this year, she was the e-pantry coordinator for The River Food Pantry in Madison. Carmen also has several years of domestic violence survivor advocacy and housing experience, which helps her collaborate with our housing stability team and understand the barriers our clients/guests face when accessing programs. In her spare time, Carmen loves cooking and spending time with friends. She also enjoys playing music and going to concerts.