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It’s a bright sunny afternoon in late October as Kamaria* finishes her work day as a caregiver. She smiles, says hello when I walk up to her car to chat. Yesterday included two shifts, one for each of her employers, 12 hours in total. She is tired.

“Caregiving is a hard job,” Kamaria says. “But it’s good. If people didn’t like it, they wouldn’t do it.”

Kamaria’s third job is being a mom to three teenagers. Her youngest is 14.

“I am so busy, they keep me on the run,” Kamaria says.

Her final stop before going home is the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry.

“I have been coming to the pantry for a long time,” Kamaria explains. “It helps, it really helps. Especially now with how expensive food is.”

Increased need for food

As pantry staff member Ashleigh loads Kamaria’s groceries into her front seat, she smiles and laughs that her kids can help her unload once she gets home. The boxes and bags are heavy with fresh produce and pantry staples. Cooking oil and other baking items are particularly bulky and hard to afford on her budget.

“The kids eat all of the food, they can unload it,” Kamaria laughs. “I cook healthy food all of the time. My kids love fruits and vegetables. Anything fresh.”

The rising prices of food, gas and utilities are hurting her ability to care for her children. She gets food from the pantry to be able to afford other bills.

The St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry is open four days a week to provide groceries to families and individuals. Each month since May of this year an increasing average number of households have turned to the pantry for help with food. Rising costs hit people with limited incomes the hardest forcing them to make hard choices and adding stress to their lives.

A blessing of time and convenience

Kamaria struggles to find time to balance all of the demands of her day: working two jobs, managing a household and raising three hungry teenagers. She uses Pantry2Home (formally PantryPal), the online food ordering system. She credits the resource as a game-changer for her family.

“The online order has been good. I come home from work and don’t have time to wait in line and have to go right home and cook,” Kamaria says. “A friend from work told me about this service. I am so glad I learned about this.”

Placing an online order relieves the burden of time from families stretched thin, allows them to choose exactly which pantry items they need, reduces food waste and offers greater flexibility for cultural preferences and dietary restrictions. Online orders are easy to make for people using the pantry. They visit the Food Pantry page of our website and click the Pantry2Home button to place an order for pickup, or the DoorDash button to place an order for delivery.

Currently, about 20 families place and pick up orders each Monday, Tuesday and Friday. On Thursday, that number exceeds 50 families as DoorDash drivers deliver the orders to 25- 40 families, in addition to those who choose to pick up their orders. Pantry staff and volunteers work hard to pack all of these orders while still managing the drive-through pantry service. Your generosity fed an average of 145 households each pantry day last month.

“You guys do wonderful things. I don’t like to waste food and with the online ordering I can choose exactly what I know my kids will eat,” Kamaria reaffirms.

Kamaria relies on the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry to feed her family and give her hope. Your care for and generosity to her and thousands of neighbors like her is tremendous. You make moving forward together in hope possible.

*Name changed to maintain the neighbor’s privacy. Photos are representational.

Donate now to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry

Each week, hundreds of households turn to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry for food. In order for households to have fresh produce, meat, dairy, bakery items and more, we need your help. If you care about food security, helping your community and lending a hand to people in need, then join our volunteer team! Flexible volunteer positions are available on weekday mornings and afternoons. Some volunteer positions in our food pantry require the ability to bend, lift and carry up to 20 lbs. at a time, but not all. Ready to help? Apply now or contact Zoe Lavender for more information.

Lend a hand as a:

Food Box Packer

This position involves filling boxes or bags with canned and dry goods (between 15- 18 pounds). Package pantry staples, cooking supplies and nonperishable items. You will also stock and sort some food donations.

Stocker

This position requires lifting and transporting cases of food. The cases can weigh up to 20 pounds, but many are not as heavy (between 10- 15 pounds). We have pallets of food stored in the back of the pantry and this job will entail taking a flat pushcart into the back and bringing up cases of canned and dry goods to stock the table that our food box packers are using to fill their boxes.

Food Sorter and Packager

We are in need of volunteers to assist with sorting food donations and packaging them into bags so they can be distributed outside in the drive-through. We are currently limited in morning availability however we are in need of volunteers for the afternoon shifts to help with a second round of bagging food once our pantry is in full swing for the day.

Online Order Filler

We are in need of volunteers to help fill our online order requests. This job serves as a personal shopper. You’ll be given a list of items for an order and you’ll package them into bags and boxes accordingly. This will include various dry goods, dairy and frozen meat. Once the order is complete, you’ll label the orders and organize them onto shelves to await pickup.

Outside Food Loader: HIGH PRIORITY

If you would prefer to work outside assisting with our drive-through food pantry, this would be the position for you! Your primary responsibility would be to load food into vehicles as they come through the drive-through.  This does require a bit more lifting and carrying, the items will be about 15- 20 pounds. (We do need a weekly commitment for this specific volunteer duty).

Updated: 10/20/2022

The Feast of St. Isadore, patron saint of farmers, saw St. Vincent de Paul — Madison volunteers and staff come together for the annual blessing of Lacy Garden, a member of Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens.

Msgr. Larry Bakke led the blessing, which included a reminder from the book of Genesis that God has called us to be stewards of his creation. The gathered group prayed for a bountiful harvest to provide food for families coping with food insecurity in our community. Msgr. Bakke, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison, reflected that God’s work began in a garden and continued in a garden after Christ’s resurrection.

Tom Lacy, carrying on the tradition established by his late parents, invites volunteers to use 1.25 acres of the family farmland each year. In the garden’s 23rd year, planting began in early May, and harvesting will happen into October.

In a typical year, the Lacy Garden provides about 20,000 pounds of vegetables for distribution to people at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. Crops grown at the garden include asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, melons, squash and more.

This year, for the first time, a summer intern, Becks Gatewood, will learn and support the work of garden volunteers: individuals, families, corporate groups and youth group members. These workers are crucial to a successful harvest. Getting involved is rewarding. No previous gardening experience is necessary. Regular work sessions are held on Monday and Thursday evenings, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. You can find more information about the Lacy Garden and volunteer registration here.

 

Increasing food prices mean higher client numbers at our Food Pantry, and people come however they can.

 

As he loaded cans of soup, a bag of apples and oranges, frozen meat, cheese, yogurt containers and a gallon of milk onto his bike, Geoff* explained how much the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry means to him. “It’s a huge blessing. A blessing of food which goes a long way,” Geoff said. “All of these people out here to help, it’s amazing!”

It is a cold, cold “Wisconsin spring” day. It’s windy outdoors in the parking lot. A mix of snow and rain falls heavily. Still, staff and volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry are loading vehicles with food and personal-care items as they have, regardless of the weather, for the past two years. Cars frequently begin lining up 45 minutes before the pantry opens. Once they reach the front of the line, it takes just minutes for staff and volunteers to load trunks or backseats with boxes of food. Clients make special requests – no meat, skip the bread, just produce this week – but most take the full 75-pound allotment.

A cart loaded with food- produce, a gallon of milk, boxes of pantry staples and brad.Most people coming through our Food Pantry receive about 75 lbs. of food (right). Your gift will help Geoff and other clients get the food they need, donate here today. Thank you!

Since the beginning of April, our food pantry has averaged 104 households per pantry day. The current record-high number of households in one day for this year is 158. These are numbers more typically seen around Thanksgiving and Christmas times. Staff and volunteers load a vehicle every minute and a half on the busiest days.

Vehicles aren’t the only way people retrieve their groceries and come through our outdoor drive-through service. Geoff, a pantry client this past year, rides his bike to and from our pantry. Other pantry users ride the bus, using backpacks or shopping bags to carry their food home. A friend referred Geoff to St. Vincent de Paul. He’s been a regular at the pantry for the last year. Especially due to the pandemic and inflation, access to free food has helped him pay other expenses and bills.

Inflation means food and other goods are expensive. Everyone feels this. Those who lack transportation face an added burden. Geoff cannot drive but manages the best he can by using a bike carrier to get his groceries home. Heavy items go on the bottom, bread on the top and anything else he can carry in two backpacks on his back. A supply of toilet paper, toothpaste and other personal-care items hang from his bike’s handlebars.

“God blessed us with this food and with this pantry. It’s amazing with such nice volunteers and staff,” Geoff said. “Food is expensive, rent is expensive, and this helps to cover other expenses like my rent and utilities. I can’t thank you enough.”

*Name changed for privacy

Debby Leisner grew up in a Milwaukee suburb with two brothers and a single mom. Even as a child, she understood her family was poor, but never felt underprivileged. Her mother worked several jobs to provide  for her kids, but struggled to make ends meet. At one point she realized she needed to seek help. Debby and her family visited a food pantry in a local church basement. Walking in, they saw bags of groceries – cans, pantry staples and non-perishable items. As Debby and her family approached the bagged items, a nun looked at her and said, “We’ve got something special for you.” The nun reached up behind a back shelf, pulled down a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal and handed it to Debby. That exchange stuck with Debby for a long time

Headshot of woman

Debby Leisner is VP of Business Operations at Widen, an Acquia Company, in Madison.

Reflecting on this moment, Debby shared that it stood out to her particularly as a moment of inspired hope. “It defined what hope could be; there will always be people that care and we are never alone,” Debby said. “It was a moment in my life where I felt hope and knew that everything would be okay.”

Debby shared that she gives back to share that spark of hope she felt in one experience as a nine-year-old. Her wish is that if one child can receive something special, something out of the ordinary just one time and feel that sense of fulfillment and promise, it will be worth it. “Sometimes we believe that extra can of food, that extra step to help someone won’t make a difference, but it will. It makes a difference to the person on the receiving end of that action,” Debby said.

Food insecurity is a large need across Dane County. With your support we will continue to provide help and hope to thousands of families this year. Please donate to our food pantry here. A child may find the same hope that Debby did.


Thanks to Debby sharing her story, PepsiCo shipped us 224 boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal! We are so grateful for this unique item as we are proud to offer a wide variety of food. Beyond fresh produce, pantry staples, meat, dairy and eggs, yes, we do provide sweets and snacks!

Four volunteers and staff standing buy a pallet full of Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes, holding a sign which reads, "Thank you!" Full pallet of Cap'n Crunch cereal in cardboard boxes

Jill* found our Food Pantry one year ago while driving through town. She uses our new online food-ordering system, Pantry Pal, to select and pick-up her canned goods, meat, fresh produce, dairy and bakery.

 

“The online ordering system is less wasteful than receiving items I might not be able to use,” Jill said. “I can chose exactly what I want.” Jill also brings food to an elderly neighbor.

Pantry Pal was developed by Laura Mendyk and Julie Eichhorn. The current system is an online form, but the pair is developing a mobile app for food pantries.“Pantry Pal is incredibly honored to partner with St. Vincent de Paul to trial and build a platform that will simultaneously make acquiring food easier for those who need it and support the operations of the pantry. We appreciate the support of Chris Kane, Jenni Troia and Josh Hittesdorf (pantry staff) and their willingness to collaborate and engage in this journey with us,” Mendyk said.

“The food ordering system allows me to spend my work money on other bills and not have to worry about food. A lot of people feel shame asking for help, but sometimes you just need help. I am not afraid to ask,” Jill said.

*Name changed for privacy

Moises and Rosa have been long-time St. Vincent de Paul—Madison clients. On one September afternoon, the couple visited the Food Pantry and Charitable Pharmacy using our newest service, a free Uber ride!

 

Thanks to a partnership with Project Finish Line, our Charitable Pharmacy is proud to offer patients free rides to and from their COVID-19 vaccinations. As transportation is a common barrier to receiving healthcare, offering free rides increases the pharmacy’s accessibility.

The couple’s afternoon began with a phone call from a pharmacy volunteer in their preferred language, Spanish. The volunteer confirmed the plans that Uber would pick up the couple and bring them to St. Vincent de Paul. Upon arrival, the car first accessed the drive-through Food Pantry and was loaded with fresh produce, bakery, meat, eggs and pantry staples.

 

Talking with a volunteer pharmacist, the couple checked into the pharmacy and awaited Moises’ prescriptions. After discussing his current health, Moises received his flu vaccine. In previous weeks, the couple were one of dozens of patients to receive their first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine through our pharmacy.

 

In talking with the couple, volunteers heard that their granddaughter had been sleeping on the floor. Was the couple aware St. Vincent de Paul provides furniture vouchers? Staff contacted the couple the next morning to connect them with a furniture voucher so their granddaughter could receive an air mattress.

 

Throughout the afternoon a pharmacy volunteer provided Spanish translation for the couple to ensure they received the correct information. Another pharmacy volunteer brought Moises his prescriptions. With photos and diagrams, she explained each medication and any new changes. The bottles contained instructional stickers in Spanish and clear patient guidelines.

 

After receiving a flu vaccine, after loading the car full of pantry staples, after receiving essential medications, after talking with staff and volunteers about their current situation, the couple went back into the Uber to head home.

Since May, SVdP has delivered free, renal-diet-friendly foods monthly for 50+ patients, who have failing kidneys.

 

Berkley identified a need, and St. Vincent de Paul helped her and Fresenius Kidney Care find a solution for dialysis patients at the Fitchburg clinic.

“Many of our patients face barriers ranging from fatigue (12+ hours of treatment every week), transportation and physical mobility difficulties, limited diets, and most do not have jobs,” said Berkley. “St. Vincent de Paul is able to provide foods that support healthy kidneys and deliver it right to our patients at the clinic.”

 

“When Berkley reached out, we said, ‘Absolutely, let’s make this happen’,” said Chris Kane, SVdP Director of Client Services. “This is a great way to literally help our neighbors in need.”

“This has been awesome to see and very impactful,” added Berkley. “Hopefully, we can continue to learn our patients’ needs and also expand to our sister clinic in the future.”

Volunteer-run Lacy Garden fosters community, promotes healthy living

 

St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry shopper Donna delighted in the variety and freshness of vegetables she received during a recent pantry visit. “My family loves the tomatoes best,” Donna noted. “And it’s fresher than what I could get at the grocery store!”

A variety of peppers from the Lacy Garden

Fresh is correct. Cabbages, broccoli, beans, tomatoes and more are grown at the Lacy Food Pantry Garden in Fitchburg. The vegetables arrive at the pantry the evening of their harvest and are distributed to clients within a day or two. The Lacy Garden, one of several food pantry gardens in Dane County, produces an average of about 18,000 pounds of fresh vegetables for the food pantry each year. It is the only pantry garden that provides produce exclusively to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry.

The Lacy Garden is run entirely by volunteers, with hundreds of individuals planting, weeding, watering and harvesting each year from April through October. Some volunteer as individuals or family groups; others come from area businesses or schools to work together for a good cause.

“My affiliation with Lacy Garden has been deeply satisfying,” said Peg O’Donoghue, Volunteer Coordinator for Lacy Garden. “It is a story of ingenuity, generosity and community.”

 

“Co-founders Ken Witte and Emmett Schulte devised a way of bringing nutritious produce to local food pantries nearly 25 years ago. Generosity from Phil and Winnie Lacy who donated farm acreage for cultivation 22 years ago, continuing to today. And it is community-built by volunteers, those who have served for many years and those who are just finding the Lacy Garden,” said O’Donoghue.

“It is a privilege to witness God’s Blessing each year,” affirmed Tom Parslow, Garden Leader. “And to watch these small seeds emerge, grow and mature into nutrient filled produce is a true miracle.”

Volunteer at our pantry this summer

It surprises some to learn that summer is typically the busiest time for St. Vincent de Paul’s Madison food pantry. The numbers of local people who need to rely on Dane County’s largest pantry for help in feeding their families usually peak during summer, when many children lack access to school meal programs. This means that the pantry is looking to add volunteers hosts, stockers and receptionists now. Scheduling is flexible, and service at this five-day-per-week pantry is a great opportunity for families and groups of friends who would like to volunteer together. Pantry volunteering can also be an important means of putting faith in action. Find our more by contacting Jenni Troia at (608) 442-7200, Ext. 426, or click here to send Jenni an email.. Click here for more information about our volunteer opportunities or here to sign up online to help out. Thank you!

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