MADISON, Wis. — Food insecurity is an issue that impacts 11.8% of Dane County residents, according to a study funded by Dane County.
River Food Pantry does what it can to reduce this number by offering fresh produce, meats, dairy products and pre-made meals.
Due to a lack of space in their warehouse located at 2201 Darwin Road and not enough volunteers, Monica Wahlberg, the Development Director of River Food Pantry, said they have been hitting some road blocks.
Increased need has forced employees to put together make shift work spaces throughout the warehouse.
“One of the wish list items is providing staff with appropriate workspace, so that they can feel good about where they are working and be productive,” said Wahlberg.
On Thursday, Dane County announced that it will be providing the River Food Pantry with $1.5 million in funding to kickstart their expansion.
The money was allocated to the food pantry through the county’s budget and comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. The total cost of the project is expected to be $7.9 million and will be funded through public and private partnerships.
Dane County’s investment will allow the food pantry to start plans to acquire land and construct a building.
The expansion is expected to add up to 25,000 square feet of space.
Wahlberg said one of the major upgrades that will come with the expansion of the food pantry is a permanent curbside pickup option.
“There would be shelter, you would drive and get to pick out what you wanted for your curbside groceries,” said Wahlberg. “This is a convenience for our clients, but it is also protection for our staff and volunteers.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the River Food Pantry would hold large community meals inside their warehouse space but due to increased need, that space was taken over by shelving for food.
“We doubled our client base, which means we needed to hire more staff,” said Wahlberg. “We also brought in new services during the pandemic and people like those services. However, they also want everything that we used to do to be brought back.”
The expansion would allow them to hold large community gatherings again and still serve the community to the extent that they have been in previous years.
Wahlberg said most importantly the expansion would allow her team to provide more residents with a proper meal, something that has the ability to benefit all of Dane County.
“It will help us continue to provide fresh wholesome, nutritious meals and when an individual feels full, they are able to do more in their community and that is why we want a fully nourished community,” said Wahlberg.
The River Food Pantry has 24 paid staff members and relies on 30 volunteers a day to prepare, package and deliver food.
One problem the expansion does not help solve is a shortage of volunteers.
“Last year, we had just under 3,000 volunteers who participated, but when we are not able to fill a shift, then we have to rely on staff or the process slows down,” said Wahlberg.
Volunteer shifts are two hours long and if community members are interested, they can follow this link to find out how to get involved.