Helping Hungry Families at the River Food Pantry

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For the fourth volunteer outing of 2017, we continued our work in the area of combating hunger by helping people get food at the River Food Pantry.

The River Food Pantry is Dane County’s busiest food pantry, offering free groceries, meals, and clothing to anyone who comes for help. More than just meals, The River provides a warm and welcoming family atmosphere where everyone is treated with respect, encouraged to find the support they need, and given the opportunity to share what they can with others.

The River feeds more than 600 Dane County families per week, going through 40 thousand pounds of food every seven days, or about 2 million pounds of food each year. In 2016, The River received 31,400 family visits. Approximately 39% of those served by The River are children and 20% are seniors. The River provided those guests with hot meals, groceries, clothing, and household items.

This is our group’s third time at The River and again we had a great time! In addition to helping clients, we get to have a tasty meal and talk to other local volunteers. We also had some little helpers with us this time too, which is an awesome way to get kids involved in the community at an early age.

Want to get involved at The River? It’s easy and just a few hours can make a difference. Click here for more information.

 

Getting Food Ready for Distribution at Second Harvest Food Bank

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For the third volunteer outing of 2017, we continued our work in the area of combating hunger by getting food ready for distribution to Second Harvest’s partner agencies (food pantries, shelters, meal sites, etc).

Since 1986, Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin works to help end hunger in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties through food distribution to its partner agencies, promotion of outside food assistance programs like FoodShare, and raising awareness of hunger. As southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief charity it meets nearly one million requests for help each year. From July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 Second Harvest, together with its partner agencies and programs, provided 12.4 million meals.

On average, 1 volunteer working for 1 hour at Second Harvest helps provide the equivalent of 65 meals. Which would mean our group helped provide over 1,040 meals, which is pretty amazing.We worked to get cheese ready for distribution, breaking up big blocks up of it into 2 lb bags.

This is probably my 6th or 7th time volunteering here and every time we are working with different foods! We had a great time and I definitely recommend checking out Second Harvest for solo or group volunteer outings.

Making Dinner for Families at Gilda’s Club Cancer Support Groups

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For the second volunteer outing of 2017, we continued our work in the area of combating hunger (and improving health) by making dinner at Gilda’s Club.

Gilda’s Club is a gathering place for everyone touched by cancer—of any kind and at any stage at no cost. Gilda’s Club offers support groups that focus on different types of cancer, as well as on special needs, e.g., spouses of people with cancer, teenagers, etc. It also offers informational lectures, workshops on crafts, exercise, nutrition, etc. and social, community-building activities such as potluck dinners and comedy nights.

For this activity, we worked to plan, purchase, prepare, serve, and clean up a Family Night meal. On Tuesday nights at Gilda’s Club they have about 50-70 men, women, and kids coming in to participate in emotional support programs. Everyone they serve is dealing with the stress of a cancer diagnosis and they like to reduce their stress by ensuring they have a healthy meal each Tuesday before programs begin.

We had a nice size group and therefore, even more good food and options for folks to choose from! A lot of comfort food too – salad, chicken noodle soup, enchiladas, lasagne, mac & cheese, Hawaiian sandwiches and cookies.

Families seemed to enjoy the meal and we received a lot of personal compliments, including one women telling us to “please come back!” They were very thankful. As were we to help in some small way.

Click here for more information on volunteering at Gilda’s Club – they have lots of opportunities!

Hosting to Combat Hunger at St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry

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Happy New Year! I’m excited to enter our third (!) year of monthly DE volunteer opportunities. As I mentioned previously, based on the feedback from the survey many credit union colleagues completed last year, I’m changing the focus for 2017.

Therefore, 2017 will be all about helping the hungry around Madison. I chose that for a few reasons:

  1. Based on survey responses and conversations, hunger and working in food pantries and food banks were the most desired and popular opportunities to volunteer, as well as working directly with people. It’s always an amazing, rewarding and humbling experience.
  2. Also, preparing food for people at Gilda’s Club and Ronald McDonald House rose to the top. Again, food is the theme here. With all of these, especially the last two, intersect with the issue of health nicely.
  3. Hunger (or “food insecurity”) is a big issue in Madison. For example, 50% of Madison public school students get free or reduced price lunch. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap has determined that 11.8% of all people and 17.5% children are food insecure  in Dane County.

We kicked things off by helping out (again) at the large and busy St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, which operates like a compact grocery store to serve between 60 and 160 families per day five days a week. Our customer-choice model of operation honors the dignity of clients and all involved in the distribution of free food to people who need it. This model also helps minimize waste and accommodates ethnic preferences by allowing clients to use “points” to shop for food their families prefer and will eat. Serving all Dane County ZIP Codes, their pantry annually gives away food valued at nearly $1.5 million to local households struggling with poverty. In a given year, they help local households with nutrition assistance over 63,000 times, including 27,000+ instances in which they help the children of the families they assist.

For this activity, we hosted clients around the pantry, some of which had been waiting hours to get food. The pantry staff was very appreciative that we were all there to help since they were really busy (the clients were too – even moreso)! As usual, it was an amazing experience and always a “Mad DE Group” volunteer favorite.

(Apologies to Megan Balogh & Lois Haag not pictured above, but also were there to volunteer – we started as soon as we “clocked in”!)

Picking out Toys via Empty Stocking Club for Families in Need

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For the last volunteer outing of the year during the holidays, I looked for an opportunity to bring a little happiness to those less fortunate! So our group of credit union people revisited something we did last year, with mostly new volunteers.

We helped out at the 98th annual Toy Depot which was held December 12-14 in the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center where the Empty Stocking Club distributed toys to approximately 3,500+ families and more than 10,000 children.

For almost 100 years, the Wisconsin State Journal’s Empty Stocking Club’s goal has always been the same: Make sure children receive at least one nice gift at Christmastime.

For this activity, we worked as “Toy Helpers,” helping the families pick out the toys for their children. It reminded me of assisting people at local food pantries, where you are with someone individually (or a family) and walk them through the site, letting them decide what they want based on their sheet. In this case, instead of points for food, they got to choose one toy per child – everything from infant toys, dolls (very popular), Star Wars items, remote control cars (also very popular), craft items, games, electronics, sports-related items, and much more. There was a great selection and felt good to be part of bringing happiness to boys and girls in the area during the holidays!

Making Kids’ Birthdays Special through Box of Balloons

Ever since doing an activity like this in March, I’ve been asked to do it again (I even put together a birthday box with my daughter as a way to give back during our joint birthdays in April). This time, our group of credit union people stepped it up and worked to provide joy, hope and celebration for two (!) children and their families on their birthdays!

Box of Balloons is a non-profit organization on a mission to make each birthday happy and every child celebrated. Every child deserves to feel special, be celebrated and have a memorable party.  Unfortunately that is not possible or many families. 22% of children in America live below the poverty level, and although they support of basic survival needs being met first, they also believe that a birthday celebration can give economically challenged families the hope they may be missing. Their focus is to ensure each child feels special and celebrated on their birthday despite a family’s current situation, living conditions, or financial status.

For this activity, I reached out to Box of Balloons and we – exclusively – planned two birthday parties. One for a girl turning 6 who likes dancing and dolls and another for a boy turning 7 who really likes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! It’s really easy and fun. They send you a list for each box/party of about 8 items (each ranged from $5-$10). It was a chance to make their day special, without him knowing. As far as most children know, volunteers (like us) had nothing to do with the Box of Balloon supplies and the party was from their parents.

As you can tell by the pictures, everyone helped put together an awesome and creative party for each child! From all the decorations to the party favors to the games to the gifts…even the boxes came out so special.

If you are interested in getting involved with Box of Balloons, here is more information.

Special thanks to all who participated and helped out in some way – Kris Ackley, John Cassidy, Eric Christiansen, Marnie Gerkhardt, Kristina Grebener, Brenda Halverson, Jessica Hrubes, Amy Nigrelli, Angela Prestil, Jessica Scheidler, Natalie Sherry, Sarah Stout, Brianne Williamson and Lacey Yasick.

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Helping People in Need at The River Food Pantry

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September is Hunger Action Month, and I’m happy to say this is the third year in a row that we’ve volunteered and wore orange to show our support! If you wear orange, some good folks will donate meals to Second Harvest Foodbank. So in addition to volunteering, we also helped support Second Harvest.

This month, we assisted clients in the food pantry at The River Food Pantry, which we had a good experience with last February.

The River Food Pantry is Dane County’s busiest food pantry, offering free groceries, meals, and clothing to anyone who comes for help. More than just meals, The River provides a warm and welcoming family atmosphere where everyone is treated with respect, encouraged to find the support they need, and given the opportunity to share what they can with others.

The River feeds more than 600 Dane County families per week, going through 40 thousand pounds of food every seven days, or about 2 million pounds of food each year. In 2015, The River received 30,605 family visits. Approximately 39% of those served by The River are children and 20% are seniors.  The River provided those guests with hot meals, groceries, clothing, and household items.

As always, it was an incredibly rewarding two hours and I’m looking forward to returning. They offer a variety of ways to get involved as a volunteer, which is definitely worth checking out!

Helping Low-Income Families with School Supplies via MOM

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For August’s volunteer activity for folks, I wanted to something a little different to make a difference around the important issue of education. I’ve found that August is a hard month to plan an event for folks to attend, but we can still do good on our own…collectively.

Much like what we did in March for Box of Balloons, I put out a call for assistance and like Box of Balloons, the response was awesome. Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) is currently collecting new school supplies and new back packs, so we answered the call.

MOM is a non-profit that is leading a community-wide effort to prevent homelessness and end hunger for people throughout Middleton, West Madison and Cross Plains.  Through the support of business partners, area schools and faith communities, as well as numerous individuals and service organizations, MOM provides – free of charge – food, clothing, housing assistance, emergency financial assistance, and special services for seniors.

For the coming school year, MOM wants to ensure that children from low-income families in our area receive the tools they need to succeed in school. This includes backpacks stuffed with grade level supplies for children in Pre-K through high school and supplies for college students. Their goal is to reach 1,000 children this year – they could never pull off such an enormous task without support.

So I put out a call and received 5-6 boxes full of supplies! Supplies even came in from visiting a credit union friend in New Hampshire who saw my social media posts as well as my 10 year-old daughter who held a lemonade stand to raise about $15 to buy supplies. It was a great feeling to be able to drop off a car full of supplies for local youth.

Sorting Food at Community Action Coalition

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For this volunteer outing, we worked with a local non-profit we haven’t volunteered with before around the critical issue of hunger!

We spent a few hours with the Community Action Coalition (CAC) for South Central Wisconsin that works to develop economic and social capacities of individuals, families and communities to reduce poverty in Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha Counties.

Specifically, we volunteered with the Food Security Program at CAC, which works to increase food access and food security among people experiencing poverty by mobilizing and distributing food resources. CAC facilitates food drives, takes donations and purchases food in bulk. They track, sort, warehouse and deliver food free of charge to more than 70 food pantries, shelters and meal sites for the hungry in South Central Wisconsin.

After we learned about all the great work CAC does, we got busy sorting food from a recent mail carrier donation drive. In just a short amount of time, we sorted two huge boxes filled with plastic bags of all types of food into different categories onto two pallets! The food will then make it’s way to area food pantries for distribution to people who need it, making our work – and CAC’s – so important.

Helping Build Homes with Habitat for Humanity

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For June’s activity, we did something that’s been on my list for a while – spent a whole day helping build affordable homes for those in need! It was also a great way to celebrate the first DE Day of Service, where DEs around the country volunteer and do something to improve the lives of others.

This outing came about through a great connection. Valerie Johnson (2nd from left above) is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, and is also a DE, having worked at the World Council of Credit Unions prior to Habitat. A year and half ago, I worked with her to get our group to help with their ReStore, but I’ve always wanted to do an all-day outing like this.

Why? Habitat does great work. Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat for Humanity of Dane County builds and rehabilitates simple, decent homes with the help of our partner families to provide affordable housing. Habitat partner families provide labor and make monthly mortgage payments on their homes at a 0% interest rate.

We had perfect weather and worked on the southwest side of Madison on a few houses that are close to being finished. Four of us spent the day thoroughly cleaning two of the houses that are very near completion, while two of us (Scott and I) helped another volunteer put railings on the front porch of one of the other houses. In addition to Habitat staff, a few AmeriCorps volunteers and others, a family member who will be living in one of the houses was there helping as well. It was a nice day and we all felt like we accomplished a lot!