On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry on Fish Hatchery Road in Madison will be extra busy.
The pantry will be bustling with families picking out items for their Thanksgiving meals. Ernie Stetenfeld, Associate Executive Director of St. Vincent De Paul of Madison, expects it to be the busiest day of the year.
But while the need is greater around Thanksgiving, St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry is a staple to many families in need in Madison and Dane County year round. The food pantry provides both food as well as security to families, says Stetenfeld.
Often times, food expenses become a lower priority with rent and other bills taking first priority. Stetenfeld explains that by offering greater food security, it not only provides peace of mind, but also makes it easier for families to pay rent, the heating bill and other major expenses.
Physically the largest food pantry in Dane County, St. Vincent De Paul operates five days a week throughout the year and, on average, serves between 60 to 160 families per day.
But beyond its size and scope, what makes the St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry unique is its “customer-choice” model. The food pantry pioneered the “customer-choice” model, which means that people who come to the pantry shop in a “grocery store environment.” They are given a certain amount of points and are able to use those points as they choose and select their own items.
Stetenfeld explains that this model gives families the ability to choose what products they want, which helps cut down on waste, making the highest use of the donations.
In order to keep the grocery store environment flowing smoothly, St. Vincent De Paul relies on their many volunteers, including a team of Badger Volunteers from UW-Madison. Shoppers are hosted by a volunteer who helps them navigate the pantry, use the point system, package their items and bring the items to their cars.
Over 1,500 volunteers lend their time to the food pantry each year, helping out in various areas from hosting and stocking the warehouse to working in the food pantry’s garden. Stetenfeld stresses the importance of all of the pantry’s volunteers and says that the pantry couldn’t run without them.
And while the food pantry greatly benefits from its volunteers, the volunteers also greatly benefit from the experience. UW-Madison junior Maia Erickson volunteered at the St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry last spring semester with Badger Volunteers. As a volunteer, Maia hosted families and says she really valued the one-on-one interaction.
“It was great to interact with groups of people that I don’t normally see on campus as a college student,” Erickson said. “I always loved that after I helped them load their groceries into their trunk, they would say, ‘Have a great day, thank you very much or God bless you.’
“I just thought that was very sweet when I felt, on the grand scheme of things, I hadn’t even really done that much to help them. I really learned a lot meeting all the families.”
The holiday season will continue to be a busy time for the St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry. Both volunteers and donations are instrumental to helping the Pantry further it’s mission of providing food and sense of security for families in Madison and the greater Dane County area.
If interested in helping the cause, donations are accepted Monday-Saturday and volunteers are always needed in two or four hour shifts.
Learn more on how to donate and volunteer by visiting www.svdpmadison.org.