For Dan Millmann, volunteering has always been on his radar.
After retiring from a 37-year career as a CPA, he volunteers at several places throughout town: the Catholic Multicultural Center, Queen of Peace Parish, Madison Children’s Museum. He’s the president of Madison South Rotary and joined the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry team last fall.
“In my mind, I always knew that I would work and once I was done I would volunteer and give back,” Dan said.
Growing up in Wauwatosa, Dan’s father modeled volunteering. Dan also credits the Catholic education he received from kindergarten through high school for instilling the value of volunteering in him. He said it’s a shared mission to help our neighbors.
“Through high school, there was always something [volunteering] there,” Dan said. “My dad was active in the church and as a family, we would volunteer. It’s always been in my mind that you do things like that and I’m just wired that way.”
Volunteering is something Dan has modeled now for his kids, both graduating this year; one from high school, one from college. He acknowledges young adults and young professionals are often strained for time, as he was early in his career. Volunteering can fall down the priority list after raising a family, managing a home, or working full-time.
Yet, he’s impressed by the number of college students volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry today.
His awareness of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry began at his church on the west side of Madison and grew after a tour of the pantry several years ago. Looking for a volunteer opportunity close to home, he contacted the pantry and called to see how he could help. He didn’t have any specific idea what we wanted to do, how he could help, or all that was going on, but the staff put him right to work!
As a table loader now for the outdoor, drive-through pantry, Dan gets to do an active role and connect with new people. He values the camaraderie of a diverse volunteer team.
“I was looking for something to itch the social side of me and connect with people,” Dan said. “What I do now does both of those things. This gives me the opportunity to give back. It makes me feel productive and I get to talk with a bunch of interesting people I never would have met. We’re all people looking to give back and it’s fun to be a part of and associated with this group of people.”
Helping people get food
Dan is passionate about helping people get food. He found that volunteering at the pantry was a natural and organized way to do that.
“Access to food and food insecurity – covering basic needs for families – were some things that were important to me personally,” Dan said “So giving people what they need so they don’t go hungry and have access to food. I wanted to do whatever I could to help with that.”
The need for food is great, Dan continued, and it’s everywhere. Just about every town across the county has a small pantry of its own, he’s learned. The work of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and all of the pantries in the area is so important; they’re filling a huge need.
“I don’t know what we would do without pantries like this,” Dan said. “I can’t imagine a country like ours having people who didn’t want to take care of their community.”
Join the volunteer team! Click here or contact Zoe Lavender, Volunteer Coordinator, at email@example.com or (608) 442-7200 x71 to help.
As we evaluate the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison Food Pantry use month-by-month since 2019, we see a remarkable pattern. The 2019 line (blue) remained steady throughout the year. In 2020 (red) pantry use reflected the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout its first year. In 2021 (yellow), as federal funds, particularly advance child tax credit and stimulus payments, became available to families, pantry use dropped significantly to lower than historical use throughout the year. Presumably more people had money to provide for their family’s food needs. In January 2022 (green), pantry use began where it left off the month before with an upward trend that in August more than doubled last year’s pantry visits.
A slight dip in September follows historical trends, likely due to the return of children to school where breakfast and lunch are available to them. October is traditionally our busiest month, and the six pantry days before Thanksgiving have been the busiest each year. We had a record-breaking day with 205 families on August 26 and eclipsed that record on September 29 with 215 families. Each Thursday in October set a new record. November is generally a busy month at the pantry, with the days before Thanksgiving the highest each year. Thursdays continued to be record-setting days through the Thursday before Thanksgiving becoming our now largest-ever day with 277 families. Instead of tailing off in December as has been our history, we served the most households in a single month than ever before, with 2568 households using the pantry that month.
January 2023 was our largest-ever month, even though there were no record-setting days. February had a slight dip, still far above even the high months of 2020, and likely had fewer visits due to the length of the month and three Thursdays (typically our busiest days) with blizzard-like conditions. March jumped to 2854 visits, the highest ever by more than 300 visits. This reflects the end of pandemic-era accelerated FoodShare benefits (SNAP) going back to pre-pandemic norms, a decrease in benefit of about $100 per person. April still exceeds 2450 visits for the month and reflects two fewer pantry days in April than in March, with an average of 153 visits per pantry day. June hit a new high with 2858 households served. The new “normal” over the spring and summer months has pantry visits landing between 2600-3000 per month.
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.
Fill the cart on Hungry Tuesday, November 21st!
What’s Hungry Tuesday? Hungry Tuesday is one of the busiest days of the year at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry.
Hungry Tuesday is also a 24-hour campaign to raise $20,000 to feed our neighbors in need.
With you, no hungry family will be turned away.
You can provide help and hope to struggling neighbors through your generous support on Hungry Tuesday, November 21st.
Follow @svdpmadison on Facebook to catch the latest Hungry Tuesday updates.
Each week, hundreds of households turn to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry for food. If you care about food security, helping your community and lending a hand to people in need, then join our volunteer team!
- Flexible, part-time volunteer positions are available on weekday mornings and afternoons.
- Shifts are usually two hours long.
- Beginning on Saturday, February 3rd, our food pantry will reopen for service on Saturday mornings.
- 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.
- Training and a background check will be required.
Help on Saturdays
Starting on Saturday, February 3rd, our pantry will reopen on Saturdays! Lend a hand to load food outside, stock tables, check-in pantry users, and package food.
Load food outside
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).
Control drive-through traffic
Have you always wanted to be a crossing guard? Is blaze yellow your color of choice? We have an opportunity you can’t miss! Join the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry volunteer team as a traffic controller. As the pantry gets busier, help cars navigate the line and keep everyone safe.
Pack food boxes
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.
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.
Sort and package food
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.
Fill online orders
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.
Why volunteer? Learn new skills, build relationships and have fun:
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.