Holiday Food Drives: Feeding the Greater Madison Community

Workers at food drive
Photo by Laura Zastro Photography at Goodman Community Center

Holidays are busy times, and figuring out what to serve at family dinners can be tricky. But for many it’s difficult, if not impossible, without the help of local organizations and community members who serve those in need.

East Madison Community Center, Goodman Community Center, and The River Food Pantry do a lot during the holiday season. Their representatives are always looking for help, and shared with me how anyone in the community can help year-round.

East Madison Community Center (EMCC)

EMCC provides a client-choice pantry for Dane County families on Tuesdays. Additionally, toiletries are offered on the second Tuesday each month and toiletries, clothing, and household items on the fourth Tuesday. EMCC has been providing programming, food pantry, and community garden for over 52 years. And over the past couple of years, De’Kendrea Stamps, assistant director, says EMCC has also been implementing a healthy and fresh foods pantry model. When they first introduced the plan, they received some pushback, but clients now appreciate more fruits and vegetables because eating healthy can be more expensive.

Photograph provided by East Madison Community Center

Always in need of volunteers, De’Kendrea spends a lot of time recruiting. EMCC’s food pantry serves 600 families, or 1,400 individuals, annually, and altogether, EMCC serves over 5,000 individuals each year through various programming. They have over 300 volunteers a year, with the highest demand during the holiday seasons, necessitating 10 to 15 volunteers to work the pantry each week.

One holiday event is a basket drive. Ten local churches provide up to 100 baskets containing the complete fixings for a Thanksgiving meal: turkey or ham, vegetables, and side dishes. One of two events, Holiday Seasons and Spice Drive or Spice Up Your Holidays, takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas and helps stock shelves with seasonings, spices, flour, oil, and other
kitchen ingredients.

The Annual Bowl-A-Thon is Saturday, November 10. This is EMCC’s largest annual fundraiser, and with the support of sponsors and the local community, it helps EMCC meet annual fundraising goals for their Minority Youth Academic Achievement Programs, which benefits hundreds of students by offering outstanding tutoring, mentoring, and educational programs for school-age children. It also funds scholarships for EMCC graduates to continue their education after high school.

Goodman Community Center (GCC)

Sam McDaniel, food pantry coordinator, who at the time of this writing has been in this position for nine months, continues to be impressed by the show of support from volunteers and fellow co-workers. Sam says most inspiring is “the chance to get to know the people who volunteer, an incredible group of people who give up their time because they choose to be here to help serve their community and make other people’s lives better.” The best part of his job, he adds, is witnessing these good deeds, which “makes you feel better about the rest of the world because there is a huge group of people [volunteering] out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a nice place to work.”

GCC boasts many great programming and resources in two historic buildings, Ironworks and Brassworks, on the same street. “The food drive is a big part of the identity of the program; we’re trying to build community, and the food drives have a big effect on that. It’s really fun and inspiring to see all these different groups and organizations come together to provide all the food,” says Sam.

Photograph by Laura Zastrow Photography at Goodman Community Center

One of their most successful and enriching events is the Thanksgiving Basket Drive. For the past 29 years, it has become a tradition with many long-serving staff and volunteers and their children returning year after year to assist with packing and distribution. Sam says, “The receipt of the baskets shows that the community cares; it’s not just that people are getting food, but that a large group of people came together to help.”

Over 3,500 families registered for baskets in 2017, and a record-breaking outcome of 21,000 Dane County residents received them (including nearly 10,000 children). Sam says the program was only at 300 baskets 10 years ago.

Food drives and donations are what help to fill baskets, as well as the overwhelming support of community members and volunteers. Sam says GCC has 30 to 40 regular weekly volunteers, and that during the Thanksgiving Basket Drive they’ll have 600. The majority of the help needed is in packing and distributing the weekend before Thanksgiving. They’ll have a crew on standby those three days from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. handing out baskets to families. Most times, it’s a drive-through setup at GCC to keep the flow going smoothly.

Cranksgiving benefits the GCC Fritz Food Pantry. Part bike ride, part food drive, and part scavenger hunt, Cranksgiving is hosted by Revolution Cycles on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Participants collect food at various grocery stores and deliver on their bikes to the GCC pantry.

The River Food Pantry: Help Other People Eat (HOPE)

Charles McLimans, president and CEO, says they need three resources to be successful: food, funds, and friends. The goal for The River Food Pantry is connecting community to compassion, and this is apparent through their continual programming and support from the local community.

The River officially opened its doors in 2006. Charles recognizes the importance of providing a place for struggling, working families to shop for essentials, like food and clothing, and in providing hot meals. They serve 1,000 families weekly, and the mission is food, resources, and faith to build a stronger community. They are ending hunger, especially childhood hunger. Charles says, “40 percent of children and 23 percent of seniors are part of the population served at the food pantry.”

Photograph provided by The River Food Pantry

The River relies on their 200 to 300 weekly volunteers for their 50,000 hours of annual service. Charles says The River is “100 percent community supported, not government funded,” and their funding mainly comes from individuals, foundations, corporations, monthly sustaining donors, and community organizations. He advocates for community building through concerted efforts of its people—through food drives and volunteering, actions that have positive impacts on both the individual and community.

“Going into extra innings” is how Charles describes working at The River during the holiday seasons. One event, the HOPE food drive, provides Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for families. People can donate $30 for a complete holiday meal, including a turkey or ham they’d like to see given to a family who shops at The River. Donations can be made online or in person, and donations must be received this year by Friday, November 9, to be served the following Friday at The River’s annual Thanksgiving Feast or distributed to families for their own Thanksgiving celebrations, and by Wednesday, December 19, for Christmas.

Also, the 9th Annual Harvest Dinner for Hunger will be held on October 21 at Madison College. The dinner will include a delicious meal, silent auction, live music, and more. Details and how to purchase tickets or reserve a table are online.

Donating food and time should not only be considered during the holidays, but daily. Create memorable experiences by helping others to work toward The River’s vision of a fully nourished community, something we can all share in.

There is no sincerer love

than the love of food.

– George Bernard Shaw

Photograph by Barbara Wilson

Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.

East Madison Community Center

8 Straubel Court
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 249-0861
eastmadisoncc.org

Goodman Community Center

Ironworks: 149 Waubesa Street
Brassworks: 214 Waubesa Street
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 241-1574
goodmancenter.org

The River Food Pantry

2201 Darwin Road
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 442-8815
riverfoodpantry.org