UW-Madison teaming up with Second Harvest to fight hunger

June 18, 2019 By Käri Knutson

It’s one thing to be hungry because you haven’t eaten. It’s another to be hungry because you don’t have anything to eat.

UW-Madison is teaming up with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin to help those who need it. Helpful Harvest is a three-month pilot program that allows people to choose from available food options online. It’s not just canned non-perishable foods – fruit, vegetables and frozen meat are among the choices.

For the pilot, people shop online in advance and can then pick up the food anonymously from 12:30 to 2 p.m. June 20 at the Union South lobby or the 9th Floor of 333 East Campus Mall (Financial Aid floor). The deadline to sign up is noon Wednesday, June 19, or when supplies run out. There is a limit of 50 people who can sign up for each location. Anyone can sign up online for food, no questions asked.

July and August dates for campus are yet to be determined. The East Madison YMCA and Goodman Community Center are also participating. The pilot is being funded by Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States.

It’s difficult for many to see food insecurity on campuses as a real issue. Isn’t surviving on ramen noodles just part of being a college student?

“It’s hard to break up the myth,” says Carl Korz, associate director for Dining & Hospitality Services at the Wisconsin Union.

Approximately 20 percent of students at four-year institutions are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food, according to the 2016 “Hunger on Campus” national study. That number nearly triples among students of color and first-generation college students. A 2016 UW–Madison Campus Climate Survey shows that 12 percent of students indicated that they could not always afford sufficient food and housing while at UW–Madison.

“We recognize that not everybody who comes here has the same means but we also recognize that we have the same goal for everybody,” Korz says. “Everybody can be a great student. UW is a great place for that. But some people need a little more support than others.”

He has been at UW–Madison for 18 years, working in his current position for 11. Previously he worked with DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen that recycles food from around Washington, D.C., and trains unemployed adults to develop work skills while providing thousands of meals for local service agencies in the process.

Korz is hopeful that the Helpful Harvest pilot can provide another tool for those in need and also help figure out how best to reach people.

“It’s hard to serve 10,000 meals a day and not think about sustainability, social justice and human need,” Korz says. “We want to make this as easy as possible.”

Students may not know where food pantries are, how to use them, or if they quality. Helpful Harvest makes it easier by bringing the food to campus.

“Can we bring it closer without the stigma? What is the impact of being able to order things online?” says Kris Tazelaar, communications manager for Second Harvest.

Many people think of a food pantry as a place where you’re handed a pre-filled box of food. While that is still the case at some pantries, Second Harvest prefers giving people options. That way it decreases the chance that some food will go to waste. And it provides a better experience.

“There are many good hard-working people who need a temporary hand up, not a hand out,” Tazelaar says. “We wish people would look at it like that.”

Whatever the reason, Tazelaar hopes Helpful Harvest provides help for anyone who needs it.

“There is no such thing as ‘those people.’ Anybody is potentially a few paychecks away from needing help in an emergency,” Tazelaar says. “It’s potentially everyone and anyone who needs a helping hand one day.”

For a list of campus resources, click here. For more about Helpful Harvest, click here.