Our History - The River Food Pantry | The River Food Pantry

Our History

Before The River Food Pantry opened its doors in 2006, its founders, Andy and Jenny Czerkas, partnered with countless volunteers to organize monthly dinners at the Northport and Packer communities along Northport Drive. As they got to know the residents personally and became familiar with their needs, the founders also established a small emergency food pantry onsite. In 2005, a warehouse on Darwin Road was rented and remodeled to include a large kitchen, bathroom, office space, children’s area, and storage areas. After months of construction and over 3,500 volunteer hours, The River opened to the public in March 2006.

Local businesses and individuals generously provided The River 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.

Since the beginning, The River has focused on ending hunger and building a stronger community for all. Year to year, The River has expanded its services to improve access to healthy food across Dane County. As our services grew, so did our community of volunteers, donors, clients and partners. Originally serving only a handful of households per week, today The River serves over 2,500 people per week, and counting.

In 2017, The River transitioned leadership from the Czerkas’ to Charles McLimans. As President & CEO, McLimans spent three years helping to advance The River to its next stage of development. Throughout 2018, The River worked with hundreds of individuals from across all of our stakeholder groups to develop a strategic plan that framed how The River will pursue a vision where everyone in Dane County is nourished in body, mind and spirit. The plan included updated mission and vision statements, enhanced core values, specific guiding principles, and a holistic services philosophy.

When COVID-19 began impacting our community in March 2020, The River quickly pivoted to safely and effectively meet the rapidly growing need for food assistance. All of The River’s services were adapted. Instead of shopping inside The River, groceries were made available via curbside pickup and free delivery through River Delivers. Clothing distribution was canceled to make more room for food. Onsite community meals were replaced by freshly prepared to-go meals for entire families through FAM (Family At-Home Meals). The mobile meals program, Munch, was expanded from non-school days to 6 days a week so that children in low-income neighborhoods would receive healthy lunches while learning from home. We also added new programs, including an online ordering system and after-hours food lockers. All of our programs now provide greater access to food.

Upon McLimans’ departure in 2020, The River named Rhonda Adams as Executive Director. Her previous positions—Interim Executive Director, Vice President, Director of Advancement, and Director of Operations—gave Adams extensive experience with overseeing the totality of the mission. Since she started at The River in 2013, Adams has committed to strengthening The River through innovation and collaboration throughout the pandemic and beyond.

The River has always been grateful for our community, including the thousands of volunteers and donors whose support makes our work possible. We are excited to continue building a stronger community together. We invite you to share in our vision of a fully nourished community.



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