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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 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.

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.”

Our Clothing Center offers free clothing and household items thanks to your generous donations. As we continue to adapt to the need in our community, we recently updated our guidelines for what items we can accept due to space and volunteer capacity.

Please review the list below before you bring donations and remove items we cannot accept. Otherwise, we have to dispose of these items, which unfortunately adds to our costs.

We CAN accept these items:

We CANNOT accept these items:

Five years ago, a shopping trip to spend a holiday gift card at a local store turned into something much more for Beth Norman and her then 9-year-old daughter, Beatrice. “When we got there, we  saw all these kids’ outerwear items super duper cheap after the holidays,” Norman says.

Norman started thinking about kids who could use warm clothing. So the pair took advantage of the great deals and purchased coats, snow pants, hats and gloves to donate to MOM’s Clothing Center. “Every year since then, we’ve been looking for the opportunity to give kids brand new stuff,” Norman says.

Ever since that first shopping trip, Beatrice, now 14,  looks forward to their annual tradition of giving and now she is the one who takes the lead on the post-holiday shopping trip. “This year, she said, ‘’I’m looking for the cutest stuff.” Beatrice is also now more aware of the disparities in her community, Norman says. ”It’s been really interesting to see her recognize that even in her own school there are kids who show up with less than adequate outerwear when it’s really cold,” Norman says.

This year, Beatrice noted that things seemed more expensive than in the past and the mother and daughter talked about the importance of giving, especially when families are experiencing tighter budgets.

“Our kids really listen to what we say but, more than anything, they see what we do. If we can do it together, those are the things that are going to create those family values we carry forward,” Norman says. “I am finding that more and more as my daughter gets older.”

The past two years have brought a great deal of disruption and change to everyone in our community including the people who MOM serves and to our organization. In March of 2020, we pivoted quickly, making significant changes to our operations in a very short amount of time to keep our community safe during the Covid pandemic, while continuing to provide services to those who needed them.

In the more than two years since we first adjusted our service model, we have continued to think creatively and strategically. We have implemented new processes, listened even more carefully to our community, and explored options we may never have thought about otherwise. We now know Covid is not going away and we may need to continue to be flexible for the foreseeable future. However, over the past few months, we have carefully and thoughtfully considered what we have learned and how we can best put those lessons into practice. This time we don’t have to pivot overnight. We are able to move forward with a timeline that allows us to make strategic decisions to create a model that delivers the greatest impact.

Expanding our Services

We are excited to share some information about how our services will be expanding next month, drawing on the best parts of our pre-Covid model and integrating it with the best parts of our new model to come up with a system that will serve our community better than ever before.

During Covid, we closed the Food Pantry to in-person shopping, focusing instead on a drive-thru service model and volunteer drivers to deliver food to those who could not get to us.  Both of these relied on a menu system, allowing neighbors to select from a list of food that included fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, bread, milk, personal essentials and other items. This worked efficiently and we never had to turn anyone away. We found that for some of our neighbors this model actually worked better than our previous in-person model. Other neighbors have been eagerly waiting to come back to the Food Pantry in person so that they can make selections themselves from a wider variety of items. We are thrilled to share that in-person shopping will be returning starting in July. We will phase it in, beginning on July 13th with the Food Pantry open to in-person shopping on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. We will also continue deliveries and drive-thru service. In the weeks that follow, we will be adding more days of in-person shopping. The Clothing Center service will also be expanding to offer drop-in times. Please check our online calendar to verify current times. We appreciate the help of Public Health Madison & Dane County for consulting with us on our Covid procedures to help keep our community safe.

Both the Food Pantry and Clothing Center will be open to anyone living in Dane County. Certification is not required for the Food Pantry or Clothing Center. However, we do encourage neighbors to meet with a MOM case manager to become certified and eligible for other programs we offer.

The need for housing assistance has increased significantly during the past two years and our programs have also expanded to meet that need. This has included adding our new Connections program which addresses people living in doubled up housing. We have been meeting in person to provide housing assistance for many months now while continuing to offer virtual appointments to those who prefer them.

You Can Help with Cans of Hope

We appreciate the generous support we have received from the community throughout the pandemic. As we expand our services to better serve our community, we are asking for your support again. For the past two years, we relied on a limited food donation model, asking people to provide items from our Top 10 most needed list. With people returning to in-person shopping at the Food Pantry, we need to  restock our shelves with a wide variety of food. You can help by participating in Cans of Hope. Here’s how:

  1. Donate food. Although we will continue to have a top 10 list highlighting our most pressing needs, we will now be accepting many more items besides those on the top 10 list. We are accepting non-perishable food, personal care items and fresh produce.

Beginning July 1, we will be expanding our donation hours. Check our website and social media for the new days and times. In addition, we are holding a Cans of Hope Drop-off Day on Monday, June 27 from 12:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Stop by to drop off your food donation, take a photo with the MOM truck, meet staff and learn more about our work. For the rest of June during our cans of Hope campaign, food donations will be accepted during our regular drop off times in the distribution center or in the front office any time we are open.

If you are doing a food drive, please contact us in advance so that we can plan and work with you to make the drive successful.

        2. Purchase a Can of Hope. Monetary donations will also help us purchase the food we need to restock the shelves. Our relationships with community partners mean we can purchase some items at reduced prices. Give now and increase your impact. Thanks to generous MOM supporters, Terry and Bob Smith, donations up to $10,000 will be matched. Make a donation of $50 or more to receive a Can of Hope postcard in the mail and have one posted on a wall inside the Food Pantry with your name on it. We are excited to fill this wall with colorful postcards that will represent the support and care of our community.