What is The River Food Pantry?
The River Food Pantry is Dane County’s busiest food pantry, offering free groceries, meals, mobile lunches and clothing to anyone who comes for help. Located in a warehouse just off Northport Drive and Packers Avenue, The River is surrounded by low-income neighborhoods and subsidized senior housing—exactly where we’re needed the most. We also provide a mobile lunch program for children and teens in low income neighborhoods surrounding the food pantry. Nutritious packed lunches are distributed in the neighborhoods on weekends and other non-school days.
More than just meals, The River provides a warm and welcoming family atmosphere where everyone is treated with respect, encouraged to find the support they need, and given the opportunity to share what they can with others.
The River feeds more than 700 Dane County families per week, sharing 48 thousand pounds of food every seven days, or about 2 million pounds of food each year. Over $3.6 million in goods and services are distributed annually. We also serve 550+ hot meals each week and currently distribute 400 mobile packed lunches on each non-school day.
In 2017, The River received 33,012 family visits. Approximately 340% of those served by The River are children and 20% are seniors. In 2017, The River provided just over 65,000 packed lunches to children and teens with MUNCH, The River’s mobile lunch program.
Our mission is to bring a message of mercy and hope to those in need by providing nutritional basics and encouragement, and to be a unifying, servant-hearted, community-building expression of Jesus Christ in Madison.
Before The River Food Pantry opened its doors in 2006, its founders Andy and Jenny Czerkas, along with countless volunteers, partnered and organized monthly dinners at the Northport and Packer communities along Northport Drive. As the Czerkas’ got to know the residents personally and became familiar with their needs, they also established a small emergency food pantry onsite. Over time, it became apparent more had to be done for Madison’s north side and Dane County.
The Czerkases rented the warehouse on Darwin Road in 2005 and remodeled it to include a large kitchen, bathroom, office space, children’s area, and storage areas. After five months and 3,500 volunteer hours of construction, the pantry opened to the public in March, 2006.
Local businesses and individuals generously provided The River Food Pantry with donations of building materials, shelving, kitchen appliances, and startup finances. Much of the physical content of the pantry is “Recycled Madison.” The serving counters are remodeled nurse’s stations from the former Methodist/Meriter Hospital. The doors and windows are also from the hospital. The pantry shelving is from the former Kmart and Cub West Food Store. The new pantry was outfitted with new and much improved electrical service. The electrical components were also donated as was all the skilled installation work.
The vision for The River Food Pantry is simple. We want to help families and individuals who are having a difficult time making ends meet, and we do so by providing them basic foodstuffs, supplies, free meals, and free clothing. Moreover, we want to treat those whom we serve with dignity and respect and revitalize them through hope, encouragement, and by providing information about available community services.
The food pantry is a wonderful opportunity for people from diverse church and non-church backgrounds to come together in service to the community. It also represents an opportunity to offer a positive, servant-hearted expression of the Church in our city. Our core team and volunteers include members from multiple churches and denominations as well as from the community at large. We encourage participants from outside the church community to come work with us to make the city of Madison an even better place to live.
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