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Food Pantries & Food Banks: Part of the Local Food System

by Amanda Ikens, Owner Resource Coordinator–East

One of the roles of the Owner Resources Coordinators at our stores is to share community resources. There are people who struggle without food or enough food to function daily, and without nutritious food we cannot sustain. That is why we support five local food pantries and partner with two local food banks to provide nutritious food and goods to those who may not be able to afford them anywhere else. Let’s take a look at who provides food to those who experience hunger locally.

Food Banks Vs. Food Pantries

A food bank is a warehouse that holds millions of pounds of food and other products that will then be dispersed to the community through local pantries. They are not in direct contact with the public that seeks the food. We have two food banks for our area of the state: Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin (CAC). Both entities provide food to pantries, meal sites, and shelters. Dawn Bradshaw, Food Program Leader of CAC, said they provided 3,472,551 pounds of food to over 448,584 individuals in three counties in the last year. Kris Tazalar of Second Harvest Food Bank said they distributed 15 million pounds of food for the 16 counties in their network. 

A food pantry works as the arm that reaches out to the community directly. It is an individual site that distributes food and other products to the community it serves. Willy Street Co-op works with five food pantries. Our West location works with Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) and Lussier Community Education Center; North has one food pantry, The River Food Pantry; and East works with two food pantries, Goodman Community Center Fritz Food Pantry and Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center (currently undergoing a remodel). 

Sourcing Local Food at Food Pantries and Food Banks

Second Harvest and CAC both receive food from individuals, corporations, farmers, grocery stores, and food drives. Some of their programs to collect food have a local focus. Second Harvest has a Field To Foodbank program that works directly with local farmers that have an excess of a crop. These items are sent to a processor where the vegetables are canned so they won’t spoil. CAC has a gleaning program that recovers usable food from farmers and farmers’ markets that would normally be thrown away. Eight CAC volunteers split up and go from farmer to farmer after the farmers’ market. The farmers give them food they don’t need and the volunteers bring the food to the food bank.

Food pantries get food from individual donations, food drives, local businesses, community gardens, and they supplement needs by buying and receiving some food from the two food banks. They also receive some food from TEFAP, which is the Emergency Food Assistance Program. It is a Federal program that provides food to pantries, meal sites, and shelters at no cost. Both CAC and MOM work with Badger Prairie Needs Network to rescue food from places like the cafeterias at Epic and UW Health. They take clean food from their facilities, repackage them as family-sized meals, add dates, label the ingredients, and then freeze for later use. Second Harvest has a partnership with Sassy Cow to help gain more fresh milk for the pantries. To give, please visit 

How You Can Support Local Food Pantries and Food Banks

Local food banks and pantries need volunteer time, money, food, and people to spread the word about who they are and what they do. We asked what the pantries would like to see on their shelves and the one thing that they all had in common was that they wanted to see clean, nutritious food. Shirley Nenning of MOM said “It’s really important for people to understand the food system, especially with global waste. It’s fantastic that people are seeing waste issues in the food system and a connection with the fact that people are hungry, but I want to make sure that we are getting dignified and respectful food. Just because people are hungry does not mean that they have to eat what other people don’t want to eat. We still need to be considerate about what the waste is and that it’s high value, healthy food for people.” When giving food, keep in mind that people are also seeking culturally appropriate foods and food for low-sodium, gluten-free, no-sugar or low-sugar, or other diets. 

All our pantry partners resoundingly agreed that a great way to support food pantries is to make monetary donations instead of giving specific foods; then the pantries can get the foods that their customers really want or need. Food pantries also can work with the food banks to purchase goods when they receive monetary donations, and that money can stretch further when spent there. Monetary donations can easily be made online at local food pantry websites. Sam McDaniel of Goodman Community Center Fritz Food Pantry said “A little boy raised money and food at his birthday party and proudly dropped off $85 and bags of food for the pantry.” 

You can also donate time. Please contact the food pantry or food bank you are interested in supporting. MOM uses volunteers to sort food and make sure they put out the best, most dignified and respectful food. The Goodman Community Center uses volunteers to help customers shop and give a good, local community feel to their experience. Christina Johnson of the Lussier Community Education Center food pantry says they use volunteers for their gleaning program and to pick up food from local stores for the pantry. 

If food is what you wish to donate, most pantries have a website and they provide a wish list. The River Food Pantry, for example, shows a list of not just food items, but also personal care items all distilled into a list of current needs. Not all pantries have room for things besides food, it really depends on the pantry and the space for storage. It’s best to look at their list or ask before dropping things off that they would not be able to use. 

Donating the Local Harvest 

This time of year it’s a larger-harvest time for farmers and local gardeners, and that means there will be lots of excess veggies available to either preserve, give, or compost. The larger-scale farmers and producers typically reach out to the food banks. If you personally have a bumper crop this season, you can reach out to the food pantries and see if they will find what you have useful. It is not often that they will turn away fresh produce. Maybe the CSA that you receive is just too much, or you are going on vacation for a bit and want to share your excess garden or crisper veggies with the pantries. If the produce is fresh, viable, and is not going to spoil soon, please drop it off at a pantry. It will be put to good use. 

If pantries decide what you have cannot be taken for home use, they may be able to use it in other programming. For example, Goodman Community Center has a senior meal everyday, after school programming for kids, and summer camp. Lussier Community Education Center provides lunches and dinners for their summer camp and school-year programming. This gives kids a chance to try new and healthy food, and they may put your excess veggies to good use. It is a great way to make sure that your food ends up in their bellies instead of in a landfill or a compost heap. You can also go to where gardeners can find local food pantries that take donations.

Hunger is a Local Food Issue

One thing I heard throughout all the interviews to put this article together is that there was a hope that one day the pantry and volunteer coordinators would work themselves out of their job. A hope that no one would struggle with food and that all would feel secure.
Instead, through time, their jobs have grown and evolved. Maybe hunger is an issue that will not be solved in our lifetimes, but we can do our part to make sure that there is food available at the local pantries and for their programming by giving. 

Special thanks to our North Owner Resources Coordinator gianofer fields for conducting all the interviews to put this piece together. Also, thanks to the following individuals that took time out of their busy work schedules to talk to us: Stephanie Dorfman of Feeding Wisconsin, Dawn Bradshaw and Bridgette Weber of Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Kris Tazelaar from Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, Christina Johnson of Lussier Community Education Center, Sam McDaniel of Goodman Community Center Fritz Food Pantry, and Shirley Nenning of Middleton Outreach Ministry.