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Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

‘It’s All About Food’ Raises Funds, Generates Ideas

Advocates gather at UWM’s Zelazo Center to help the hungry

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Although it may feel like you really need the newest iPhone, or that the family really needs a new car, human beings only have four basic needs, and consumer electronics and motorized vehicles aren’t one of them. Shelter, clothing, water and food comprise the list, and many U.S. citizens are suffering without them. When a portion of our population is going hungry, our society as a whole cannot function adequately, let alone thrive.

In June 2008, Milwaukee County’s main welfare office erupted into chaos when approximately 3,000 people lined up to receive FoodShare benefits, a federally funded program that offers a month’s worth of food stamps to low-income residents who have incurred damage in a declared disaster—in this case, a flood. Many of those people weren’t affected by the flood at all; they were just in dire need of food.

Fortunately, Milwaukee has a strong contingent of citizens who refuse to allow our neighbors to go hungry. Friedens Community Ministries operates an emergency food pantry at the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center on Vliet Street, the same building where food stamps are distributed. The “emergency” isn’t limited to natural disasters, but rather relates to the fact that cupboards are bare. When Milwaukee County residents apply for food stamps for the first time, they often don’t bring all the documentation they need to get their benefits activated right away. The emergency food pantry is a stopgap, so a food-insecure family can have a three- to five-day supply of food to tide them over until their benefits kick in. The emergency food pantry serves close to 12,000 households a year, and between 25,000 and 28,000 men, women and children.

Needy families are given bags of groceries that Friedens puts together based on current USDA guidelines. A typical bag will contain protein, like chicken or ham, cans of soup, vegetables and fruit, as well as starch in the form of rice or noodles. A significant portion of Friedens’ food is donated, so the menu varies from day to day.

“We’re excited about our ability to meet people’s emergency food needs,” explains David Johnson, executive director of Friedens Community Ministries. “But we want to see if we can do it in a healthier way by bringing more fresh foods through our pantry.”

This Wednesday, Nov. 11, Friedens will host a dining fund-raiser called “It’s All About Food” at UW-Milwaukee’s Zelazo Center to exchange ideas on how to ensure that emergency food pantry clients have access to healthy food from sustainable sources. A panel of food justice and urban agriculture experts have been invited to share their views on the matter and generate ideas on how Milwaukee’s food pantry network can influence how our government chooses the commodities it distributes to emergency food pantries.

The roster of panelists includes Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force, a locally founded, funded and operated nonprofit that has one goal in mind: end hunger. Young Kim of the Fondy Food Center will share the information he’s collected as executive director of a “farm to fork” nonprofit that’s committed to improving access to fresh, locally grown foods and promoting healthy diets on Milwaukee’s North Side. Relentlessly dedicated to an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable local food system through organizations like the Kitchen Table Project, the Milwaukee Food Council, Growing Power and Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast, Martha Davis Kipcak will be on the panel. Also on hand will be Gretchen Mead, director of the Victory Garden Initiative, an urban agriculture group that promotes the use of lawns for food production.

Audience members are encouraged to participate in the discussion while they snack on small servings of food prepared by some of Milwaukee’s best chefs—Joe Muench of Maxie’s Southern Comfort, Jan Kelly of Meritage and La Merenda’s Peter Sandroni—who will be using ingredients typically found in a grocery bag from Friedens’ food pantry. Participants can also bid on silent auction items in a farmers’ market setting where vendors will be selling their wares. “It’s All About Food” will give community members not only a chance to support an inspiring food pantry like Friedens, but also a voice that could end hunger in our community.

Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 6 p.m. @UWM’s Zelazo Center (2419 E. Kenwood Blvd.). Tickets: $35. Call 414-289-6030 for reservations.n

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