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Food Security in Our Own Backyard

It’s no secret that food security and hunger is not something that only happens to people in far away places, it’s difficult for folks right here in Dane County to get enough to eat and stay healthy. In 2013, the Dane County Food Council predicted that the food insecurity rate was 11.2% for all persons, and 15.5% for children. Their Annual Report also revealed that 14.4% of the county population participated in FoodShare last year (up from 11.4% in 2012). Put into our Co-op’s perspective: we reported in our June Reader that our 31,100+ active Owners make up approximately 6% of the county’s population. That means that countywide just about double the number of people that comprise our Ownership go to bed hungry. Poverty and food insecurity has no bounds, it affects employed and unemployed people of all ages, races, genders, and families of all sizes in the city, the suburbs, and rural communities alike. It’s fair to assume that some of those going hungry may be our own families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and classmates.

There are many organizations and food pantries in the community already doing their part to reduce food insecurity and poverty in Dane County, and our Co-op continues to participate and investigate new ways to be part of the effort to get our neighbors the nutritious food that they need to feel good and lead sustainable, healthy lives. The United Way of Dane County’s Healthy Food For All Children Plan was completed in 2013. In their planning stages, they found that public benefits and access to food pantries were two important ways to gain access to healthy food. Our Co-op already accepts FoodShare and partners with a variety of food pantries in Dane County via funding and food donations. That’s good news, but why stop there? With Cooperative Principle #7: Concern For the Community as a driving force in what we do, we believe we can surely do more.

Access Discount Review: You Can Help
Our Access Discount program provides current and new Owners that can verify their use of public benefits a 10% discount on the majority of purchases. Current qualifying public benefits for enrollment in Access include FoodShare (EBT); Medicaid (BadgerCare or SeniorCare); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children/Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (WIC); Section 8 Housing Assistance (HUD); Free and Reduced School Meal Program; Child and Adult Food Care Program; and Social Security Disability Insurance/Supplemental Security Income. In our Fiscal Year 2014, 1131 Owners were enrolled in the Access Discount Program, or about 3.6% of our31,097 active Owners for the year.

Our Access Discount Program was last revised, reviewed, and implemented in FY12. One of the positives of the program’s revamp was that it created a discount program based purely on need while offering distinct definitions of eligibility and a clear pathway to enroll and renew enrollment. It’s now FY15. Three years later, we wonder: are we still providing a good value to many and making everyone in our community feel like they can both shop and join here? Does the Co-op have a service gap when we notice a 11.2% food insecurity rate county wide, and only 3.6% enrollment in our Access Discount Program? For these reasons, we’ve concluded that in order to make sure we are serving our Owners and our community sufficiently, regular review and maintenance of the Access Discount Program is necessary. Public benefits change year to year when state and federal budgets are established. The needs of our community and the demographics of the people who need help the most also change. It’s time to create enrollment goals and establish partnerships to develop this program that reflect our community’s overall food security. We need your help to make it happen.

The Co-op is currently seeking two Owners either enrolled in the Co-op’s Access Discount Program or Owners with a working background in food accessibility to serve a one-year term on our newly formed Access Discount Review Committee. A standing general management committee comprised of the Director of Cooperative Services, the Director of Finance (or an appointee from the Finance Department), the Owner Records Administrator, a rotating appointee from the Board of Directors and two rotating Owners-At-Large will review the program goals and public benefits that qualify Owners to participate on a biennial basis. Interested Owners are encouraged to apply by submitting a cover letter to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your Owner number and a personal statement explaining why you would like to be considered as a candidate for the committee. The bulk of the committee work for this year’s term will be completed between December 2014 and March 2015.

Pantries of Plenty Community Fund Drive
For years Co-op Owners have been generously dropping off food on our pantry shelves from their homes and their shopping carts for food pantries at the Goodman Community Center, the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, the Lussier Community Education Center, and Middleton Outreach Ministry. Each month, our Owners generate about 100 pounds of food per pantry. Last year, Willy East piloted a holiday cash donation program with the Goodman Community Center, and Owners scanned cards worth either $5 or $10 for Goodman to purchase non-perishable groceries and other holiday staples for families in need to prepare holiday meals at home. The short program generated about $1600 for the pantry, which was able to use a gift card in that amount to pre-order cases of product that they really needed.

This year, we’ve extended the pilot into our new Pantries of Plenty (POP) Community Fund Drive. Now, Co-op Owners have the option to purchase $5, $10, or $25 POP Cards between November 1st and December 31st for all four of the food pantries our Owners donate food to on a monthly basis. POP Cards will be available to either make a simple donation or to make a donation as a gift in honor of someone else. At the end of the POP Community Fund Drive, we will divide monies raised amongst all four pantries via a Co-op gift card so that they can use the money for pantry needs beyond our standard non-perishable donations.
POP Cards will be available at the registers, and at the Owner Resources Areas at our stores. Consider giving the gift of good food to those in our community who need it most this holiday season.

Hunger is a Complex Community Issue
According to the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Poverty and Food Insecurity in Wisconsin and Dane County report from 2011, “Food secure households have enough food at all times for an active and healthy life. In contrast, households with low food security report running out of food without having money to buy more, cutting back the size of meals due to lack of money or having to skip meals altogether. These are complex problems without easy solutions, but communities can make a difference.” You are already making a difference whenever you put some of your groceries on our donation shelves, andyou are already making a difference by investing in our Co-op, which allows us to be a full service grocery that accepts FoodShare and supports community food security efforts via the Access Discount Program, many donations and sponsorships, and the Community Reinvestment Fund. Thank you for your continued contributions. As we reflect both as individuals and a Co-op this holiday season on how we can better help feed our community, let us never be satisfied, but rather continue to look forward. We can always do more.
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