Dane County & Second Harvest Mark Anniversary of Initiative to Address Food Insecurity as New Wave of Need Begins

CEO Michelle Orge speaks at Dane County Executive's press conference
CEO Michelle Orge speaking at press event to mark the beginning of the fourth year of the Farm to Foodbank initiative.

Dane County, Second Harvest Remind Community Members of ‘Farm to Foodbank’ Initiative as 20,000 Dane County Residents See End of Federal FoodShare Increase

This spring marks the beginning of the fourth year of an innovative county-initiated partnership with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin that was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, Dane County, Second Harvest, and its network of local food pantries and meal sites have provided millions of pounds of freshly grown and locally-sourced food to thousands of families in Dane County.

Dane County Executive Parisi’s budget includes $6 million to sustain the successes of Farm to Foodbank in 2023. The funding comes at a critical time, given recent announcements that temporary increases to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP, or FoodShare in Wisconsin)—benefits designed to help families cope with the financial impacts of the pandemic—will sunset at the end of February.

“The combination of the pandemic and national economic factors resulted in almost 40,000 Dane County residents facing food insecurity last year,” County Executive Joe Parisi said. “Farm to Foodbank was created to meet the earliest challenges we saw in COVID, and as time has gone by, it’s clearly emerged as the model partnership to meet emergency needs while supporting the local economy. To help weather the economic impact created by the end of the extra FoodShare benefits, we encourage residents to make use of the many area food resources who receive food from the Farm to Foodbank initiative.”

SNAP assists more than 41 million Americans in purchasing healthy food. Following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Congress passed a 15% boost to SNAP to help low-income families and individuals make ends meet during uncertain times. With that boost now coming to an end, benefits will return to pre-pandemic levels. Yet, inflation has caused food prices to remain high. An estimated 20,000 Dane County residents will be impacted by this change, and food pantries are expecting a surge in the number of people seeking assistance.

How will the end of extra FoodShare benefits impact the Dane County community? Roughly $5,391,844 will be lost in benefits per month ($64,702,128 per year). The estimated negative economic impact per month will be $9,705,319 ($116,463,830 per year). These calculations are based on the estimation that each $1 that comes into Dane County in benefits generates approximately $1.80 in local economic activity. In addition, Feeding America estimates that the cost of a “meal” in Dane County is $3.71. When you divide the lost benefits per month ($5,391,844) by meal cost, that means approximately 1,453,327 meals will be lost each month (17,439,927 meals per year).

“This initiative connects families facing food insecurity with nutritious food grown and produced right here in Dane County, with the added benefits of strengthening our local food system by supporting local farmers and producers and reinvesting in our local economy,” said Michelle Orge, president & CEO of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. “While there is still work to be done to expand Farm to Foodbank throughout Southwestern Wisconsin, we’re incredibly grateful for the foundation we’ve built with Dane County and their continued support.”

At the outset of the pandemic, Dane County officials approached Second Harvest to co-design a program to increase the supply of locally-grown nutritious food into the emergency food system while providing a market for Dane County food producers who, at the time, were facing devastating setbacks due to the loss of their traditional sales and distribution outlets. Those efforts became Dane County and Second Harvest’s Farm to Foodbank initiative.

“Our partnership with Second Harvest is vital to the success of our food pantry, and in the last three years, with the unprecedented demand on our pantry, the free produce, dairy, and meat we’ve received from the Farm to Food Bank initiative has ensured our customers have access to high-quality fresh foods,” said Goodman Center CEO Letesha Nelson. “We even started a fresh produce stand for our customers to pick out fruits and vegetables as they wait to shop the pantry.”

Since 2020, the county has invested $20 million to acquire and distribute well over 12 million pounds of locally-sourced food. In 2022 alone, the initiative supported 3.8 million meals through 128 food pantries and meal sites in Dane County. Additionally, 53 Dane County food producers received a fair price for their food, which helped create a positive local economic impact of over $12 million.

“This partnership exemplifies the good that can result when people come together to look for ways to address challenging circumstances,” Parisi said. “This is keeping people who struggle to make ends meet fed and creating income for our local growers and farmers. I’m continually grateful to Second Harvest and each one of the partner organizations for their persistence and creativity in helping us support our neighbors.”

In addition to the Farm to Foodbank initiative, Executive Parisi announced today that Dane County is awarding $2 million in local emergency food pantry assistance grants to:

• Wisconsin Youth Company | $50,021

• Mission Nutrition DeForest | $50,021

• McFarland Community Food Pantry | $50,000

• Sun Prairie Emergency Food Pantry | $95,236

• Extended Hands Pantry | $50,021

• Oregon Area Food Pantry | $50,021

• Lussier Community Education Center | $67,627

• Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Community Center | $50,564

• Deerfield Community Center, Inc. | $50,021

• JFMJ Academy | $50,021

• Neighbors Helping Neighbors | $50,021

• Heights Unlimited Community Resource Center | $50,000

• Vera Court Neighborhood Center | $50,021

• District Council Of Madison, Society Of St. Vincent De Paul | $223,349

• The River Food Pantry | $111,686

• Badger Prairie Needs Network | $125,643

• Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin | $530,844

• Middleton Outreach Ministry | $201,842


Family & Food Go Together

Kris Tazelaar

For Kristen Benjamin, cooking and family go hand-in-hand. Growing up in Chicago with her mom, dad, and sister, she remembers that connection between family and food. “I have cousins, aunts, and uncles,” she said. “Family was always over at our house because mom loves to cook.”
A few years ago, Kristen moved to Madison looking for a better life, but that connection between food and family is still strong. “I love to cook, and they love to eat,” said Kristen. “With kids and grandchildren living in the area and friends and neighbors regularly stopping by, you never
know how many people will be at the dinner table. That’s what brings a family together.”

When she was in Chicago, Kristen regularly worked two jobs, but now painful sciatica and degenerative scoliosis prevent her from working. But thanks to various public programs, her kids, help from her significant other, and Second Harvest’s mobile food pantry that comes to her apartment complex each month, Kristen is able to keep bringing the family together around the dinner table.
“I love the Second Harvest pantry, and it helps a lot. The workers are good to get along with and very understanding. And they’re good items that you receive. It makes things a lot easier!”
Our mobile food pantries support thousands of families like Kristen’s every month throughout southwestern Wisconsin, thanks to your generous gifts. Thank you!

War-Torn, but Still Giving Back

Kris Tazelaar

Support for Second Harvest comes in many forms, not the least of which is our amazing volunteers. 18-year-old Maryna Sahaida has become a regular volunteer with Second Harvest over the last few months. Maryna is a Ukrainian refugee who left after Russian forces invaded her country. She came to us to help people and honor her mom, dad, grandma, sister, and nephew that she had to leave behind.

Before February 24, Maryna lived in Ukraine with her mom and dad in the same village as her sister, nephew, and grandma. Before the war, “[Ukraine was] a very beautiful country. I’m sad that people didn’t really know about Ukraine before.”

Growing up in a tiny village, Maryna would spend her days helping grandma fill her root cellar with potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and vegetables they had grown in grandma’s garden. That same root cellar would protect grandma from nearby falling bombs during the invasion.

By March 5, Maryna had traveled more than 5,000 miles to Madison, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, a lack of visas meant that her mother, grandma, sister, and nephew couldn’t join her. And men between 18-60 couldn’t leave, which meant her 50-year-old father could not join her either.

The route to safety included crossing the Ukrainian/Hungarian border and spending a few nights in a refugee camp, then going from Budapest to Munich, then Chicago, and finally to Madison to stay with a host family from Bethel Lutheran Church.

Maryna recalls leaving her family at the Ukrainian border. “It was really difficult, especially the first couple days in Madison. I would call my mom crying every day.” Even while her family was forced to migrate for a few months, Maryna has been able to call or text them most days, thanks to the internet.

Unfortunately, in addition to her grandma’s house, her sister’s apartment and most of the main streets in her hometown have been destroyed. “It was really hard watching the news. I don’t want to be in a depression, so I tried to avoid reading too much news. It’s very difficult.” When asked why she volunteers with Second Harvest, Maryna said, “First of all, I like to help people. I like the friendly atmosphere here. I totally feel a connection. Our people need a lot of help, and I know this feeling, so I can feel that people here also need help with food.”

While Maryna has no idea when she will be able to return home, she does know that she wants to continue helping people facing hard times. “I would like to find people who could do the same organization [like Second Harvest] in Ukraine so we could help people with food. [I] would like to be part of starting an organization like Second Harvest.”

When asked what she hopes for in the future, Maryna responds, “To have a good life without any wars. It’s the 21st century, and we still have wars? I just want people not to forget about Ukraine.”

School Market Helps Whole Community

Kris Tazelaar

“You’re not going to be able to learn if you have a headache from being hungry.” That idea was the catalyst behind the desire to put a free food market inside Reedsburg High School.
We recently sat down with Erica Lehr-Reuber (4k – 5th grade) and Tara Wedel (6 – 12th grade), social workers in the Reedsburg School District, to discuss the connection between food security and a student’s ability to be successful in school, and their new school market.

“How is a student going to sit in a classroom when they’re anxious and worried about where their next meal will come from,” said Erica. “Parents need to have nutritious, healthy meals to be able to provide for their families, and our students need the same to be able to be successful in school, at home, and in the community.”

For students in school, a lack of access to enough nutritious food can have a lasting impact. Faltering grades, short tempers, and longer-term adverse physical outcomes like high blood pressure and obesity can all be traced back to food insecurity in the home.

According to Tara, “[The families] are working hard to provide for their kids. They’re doing everything they can, but sometimes it’s just not quite enough for the grocery bill, but they’re really trying.”
To ensure their students have every chance to succeed in school and help the community, Erica, Tara, the district administrators, and numerous community groups (including Second Harvest) came together to launch a school “market” in the main commons area inside Reedsburg High School. Now, any community member (not just students) can visit the market five days a week from 3 – 6 pm to receive free food. Additionally, during regular school hours, students can get snacks to tide them over outside school meal times.

“I love the term market,” said Erica. “We’re hopeful that it’s very welcoming and helps remove the stigma of what people think a pantry may look like.”

Before it opened its doors, the new market had a few barriers to overcome. Beyond the pandemic, they had to find a prominent location in the school for the market, work through funding hurdles, and acquire refrigeration units. Luckily, one thing that wasn’t a barrier was convincing the district administrators. “We have incredible administrators who understand this is a significant need,” said Erica.
As for Second Harvest’s role in the school market, Tara indicated, “This would not be possible without Second Harvest. We would be lost, and our families would continue to go hungry.”

When asked what they hope for the school market program, Tara shared, “I hope that everyone embraces it, and when people come into the space, they recognize that this is a great thing.” Erica responded, ”That’s what we hope this market will do for families, that they can feel better, feel supported, and help them feel appreciated and loved and cared for.”

Thanks to you, Second Harvest can support school markets, backpack programs, mobile pantries, and all our programs designed to end hunger in our community!

MADISON, WI, September 15, 2022 – Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin welcomed members of the staff of iCare and parent company Humana as they volunteered at its Madison facility today in honor of Hunger Action Month®, which runs the month of September.  Sixteen iCare and Humana staff assembled boxes of assorted refrigerated products like eggs, butter, and yogurt. In the coming days and weeks, their efforts will result in hundreds of families throughout southwestern Wisconsin receiving nutritional support.

“One of the many things that were reinforced by the pandemic was that we can’t end hunger alone,” said Michelle Orge, Second Harvest president & CEO. “It’s going to take everyone to take action to ensure that those facing hunger receive the support they need to thrive. We are grateful for iCare and Human’s commitment to our community.”

In addition to volunteering at the Second Harvest facility, iCare and Humana staff are also volunteering at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin facilities in the Milwaukee and Fox Valley areas this week. In total, over the span of 5 dates, up to 84 iCare and Humana staff will volunteer their time towards reducing food insecurity in our community.

“Food insecurity is a serious area of concern across Wisconsin,” said Tony Mollica, Humana’s Wisconsin Market President and iCare CEO. “Our associates work with vulnerable populations daily. Whether we are serving people who have low incomes, disabilities, or both, we’re working to increase healthy days with people who are at the greatest risk of worsening their health conditions through lack of nutrition. That’s why we’re proud to offer volunteers across the state, in Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee, to advance the work Feeding Wisconsin and their member food banks do to support our communities.”

Second Harvest and Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin are both members of Feeding Wisconsin and Feeding America.

About Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin
Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin began working with local hunger-relief agencies in 1986. It helps end hunger in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties through food distribution to its partner agencies, promotion of outside food assistance programs like FoodShare, and raising awareness of hunger. As southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief charity, it meets nearly one million requests for help each year. From July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, Second Harvest, together with its partner agencies and programs, provided 19 million meals.  It is one of 200 members of Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. For more information, visit SecondHarvestMadison.org.

About Humana

Humana Inc. is committed to helping our millions of medical and specialty members achieve their best health. Our successful history in care delivery and health plan administration is helping us create a new kind of integrated care with the power to improve health and well-being and lower costs. Our efforts are leading to a better quality of life for people with Medicare, families, individuals, military service personnel, and communities at large.

To accomplish that, we support physicians and other health care professionals as they work to deliver the right care in the right place for their patients, our members. Our range of clinical capabilities, resources and tools – such as in-home care, behavioral health, pharmacy services, data analytics and wellness solutions – combine to produce a simplified experience with the goal of making health care easier to navigate and more effective.

More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the Investor Relations page of the company’s website at humana.com, including copies of:

  • Annual reports to stockholders
  • Securities and Exchange Commission filings
  • Most recent investor conference presentations
  • Quarterly earnings news releases and conference calls
  • Calendar of events
  • Corporate Governance information

About Independent Care Health Plan (iCare)

iCare provides managed care coverage for over 45,000 people throughout Wisconsin, most of whom have low incomes or are disabled. iCare has been securing the wellness of people with complex conditions for over two decades. iCare is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Humana Inc. For more information about iCare, visit www.iCareHealthPlan.org or call 800-777-4376 (TTY 1-800-947-3529)

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We at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin are devastated by last weekend’s racially motivated killing of 10 people and injury of three additional people in Buffalo, NY, and are taking action to support the Buffalo community. 

Second Harvest has made an organizational commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), recognizing the overlapping and interdependent systems of oppression that lead to food insecurity. Our mission is to end hunger in Southwestern Wisconsin, but we believe that in order to accomplish our mission we must actively call out racism, white supremacy, and other forms of oppression in any community.  We also recognize the importance of supporting communities and partners in service of this belief. In light of the impact on food access in the East Side district of Kingsley, Second Harvest will be supporting FeedMore Western New York with its food acquisition and distribution work in Buffalo. We encourage you to pause and honor the lives lost in Buffalo and support that community through gifts to the FeedMore Western New York emergency response fund.

Thank you to our community for your ongoing support of Second Harvest and partnership in our work.

MADISON, WI, April 14, 2022 – Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin announced today that they have awarded $200,000 in capacity-building grants to four area organizations to increase food equity in our community. The goal of the initiative is to learn from and build long-term racially diverse nutrition distribution strategies as defined by the community to address health disparities and advance food equity.

Michelle Orge, Second Harvest President/CEO speaking at capacity grant press conference
Michelle Orge, Second Harvest President/CEO speaking at capacity grant press conference.

“Everyone in our community should have enough nutritious and culturally meaningful food to thrive,” said Michelle Orge, Second Harvest’s President/CEO. “These grants aim to support programs that increase food equity in communities of Color who disproportionally face food insecurity, and help us learn how to further improve food equity in the future.”

Grant proposals were accepted from February 1, 2022 through March 14, 2022. Proposals for projects ranging from $2,500 – $75,000 were accepted from groups and organizations that met the following criteria:

  • Eligible applicants are designated as a registered 501c3 -or-
  • Organizations, mutual aid groups, collectives, and tribal organizations that are fiscally sponsored by a 501c3 non-profit
  • Projects must support community(ies) within the 16 counties in the Second Harvest service area
  • Efforts should be led by, or conducted in partnership with, racially diverse communities impacted by food insecurity

A total of 36 eligible proposals were received, with funding requests nearing $1.8 million.

Funding for the grants must be used between April, 2022 and June, 2023. Details of the four proposals that will be funded are:

  1. Groundswell Conservancy will receive $7,800 to help create more equitable water access through a water distribution system. This new system will help Hmong growers produce culturally-relevant food for the Hmong and greater community, and help to create land security for growers to advance food sovereignty and food security.
  2. Kennedy Heights Community Center will receive $55,800 to fund a project that will center healthy, delicious, and culturally relevant food across all of their programs. They will begin a Resident Advisory Committee, revitalize their Community Garden space, and start a cooking club focused on sharing food traditions.
  3. REAP Food Group along with Roots4Change will receive $61,441 to help fund their Farm to Families program that highlights food preparation centering on cultural pathways, purchasing food from female and BIPOC growers, and the creation of a co-learning space related to cooking, breastfeeding, and food policy.
  4. The Hmong Institute will receive $75,000 to support their Food Care Box Program-access new products that are culturally relevant, address policy gaps in local food pantries, and support families currently on a waitlist.

The four proposals that were selected emphasize the following:

  • Strategies that advance culturally meaningful foods distribution
  • Testing food access entry points for racially diverse communities
  • Community centered priorities and solutions with racially diverse leadership and partners
  • Centering/Leveraging community assets and fostering authentic relationships

About Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin
Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin began working with local hunger-relief agencies in 1986. It helps end hunger in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties through food distribution to its partner agencies, promotion of outside food assistance programs like FoodShare, and raising awareness of hunger. As southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief charity it meets nearly one million requests for help each year. From July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 Second Harvest, together with its partner agencies and programs, provided 19 million meals.  It is one of 200 members of Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. For more information, visit SecondHarvestMadison.org.