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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. 

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.

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.”

A year-end message from WayForward Executive Director Ellen Carlson

At WayForward, we believe that when everyone has access to key building blocks for stability, we can transform our community into the kind of place we want it to be. 

This year has presented many challenges to this vision of our community. When I sat down to write this letter last year, our food pantry was providing the equivalent of 54,000 meals per month. Now we’re distributing 115,000 per month. We see the same pressure on our housing stability programs, setting a record for the amount of financial assistance we provided in November.

When I look ahead I see no sign of the demand plateauing.

Numbers like these can be overwhelming. But I’m sharing them with you because they tell us a lot about what is happening in our community. And these numbers represent the experiences of people in our community: people who are standing in line outside in the cold two hours before our food pantry opens and people who are sitting in our lobby waiting to meet with case managers to discuss housing assistance. 

Experts report the rise in demand is due to the end of pandemic-era support, general inflation and the steep increase in housing costs in our community, which causes people to focus even more of their income on paying rent. We have never turned anyone away from getting food, but we have had to put some limits on the amount of food people can take. We worry about how we and other local food pantries can continue to ensure that everyone in our community has access to nutritious food.

It is hard to hear these things. But this challenging moment also includes milestones to celebrate. 

In the week prior to Thanksgiving, about 3,000 people received food from our pantry, including additional ingredients needed to make holiday meals for their families. We are on track to distribute the equivalent of more than one million pounds of food this year.

More than 600 households received financial assistance last year. As the Madison area continues to experience some of the highest rent increases in the country, this support allowed families to avoid eviction and stay in their homes, where they can eat dinner together and have a place for kids to do homework at night. In addition, the first participants have graduated from our Connections program, which means over the last year they have transitioned from doubled-up housing into homes of their own and no longer need financial assistance.

Your support is how we have continued to meet the need up to this point and stay focused on our mission. You ensure that families have access to nutritious food, including the nearly 3,000 people who received food for holiday meals. Your support also meant more than 600 students started the school year with backpacks loaded with the supplies they needed and 1,700 people received gift cards to help stretch their dollars a little farther this holiday season.

Every day, I am grateful for our volunteers, who have grown in numbers and put in more hours this year than last year. They adapt to our changing needs and adjust their to-do lists to tackle what is needed. We see so much patience and generosity as they work to help ensure people have critical access to food. I’m also thankful for the people in our community who recognize the impact of our work and serve as powerful advocates for WayForward and the people we serve. We will continue to need your strong voices in the year to come so our neighbors can go to bed at night knowing local food pantries – the last safety net for the most basic of all needs – will still be able to serve them.

There are a number of ways you can still make a tax deductible financial donation this year. Donations of your time and food can also make an immediate difference, including buying items directly from our wish list listed on our website, to help us continue to offer a variety of options to the people who visit our pantry.

By joining forces to provide our time, expertise, and resources, we can provide more people access to nutritious food and stable housing.

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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.” 

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. 

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.

 

food donation barrel with WayForward Resources logo that reads DONATE HERE with a QR code, a large orange arrow and and stripes in navy, light blue and peachA crew of volunteers from Springs Window Fashions signed up for painting duty to give our food barrels a makeover ahead of our name change to WayForward Resources in May.

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!

Jim Levin, a retired infectious disease physician, learned about WayForward from his daughter, who had volunteered in the past. He was looking for something to do with some of his spare time after retiring last January and started volunteering in the fall as a senior program volunteer driver. In a few cases, he has been able to share his medical expertise, offering insights to seniors heading to doctor appointments to help them better understand their condition or what questions to consider asking.

What keeps you coming back?
The gratitude of the clients you are helping drive to medical appointments, the grocery store or to pick up laundry. I enjoy the conversations we get to have on the way.

What has surprised you about volunteering at WayForward?
How well run the operation is and the caring people that work WayForward.

What would you tell a friend who is considering volunteering?
I would tell them that I am happy volunteering for WayForward and impressed with the day-to-day operations

You Can Help

Build Stability in Our Community

Now, more than ever, your support helps ensure that people in our community have enough nutritious food to eat and can remain in stable housing.