Children in the Woodland Park Apartments run, hop, skip and giggle when they see The River Food Pantry’s large white van pull into the neighborhood parking lot. Children eagerly line up while volunteers and The River staff unload their vehicle and arrange coolers and a table on the grass located in the center of the neighborhood. You can hear “Yes please” and “No thank you” while children choose what food they would like to eat for lunch. During this time, any child or teen can come up to the table to choose items of a nutritional lunch and then sit down with their neighbors to enjoy a meal together. After eating, the children help load everything into the vehicle and then wave goodbye while the white van heads back to The River Food Pantry.
In June 2016, The River launched a mobile lunch program called Madison Unites to Nourish Chidlren at Home (MUNCH). The program distributes nutritional lunches when the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) free meals aren’t available. MUNCH is currently at five north side neighborhoods. More low-income neighborhoods will be added as funding allows.
“Having been raised in a low-income family with many difficulties, including issues with hunger, I can attest that sometimes food benefits and the average paycheck may not always be enough to provide for a growing family,” Dani Barker, The River Food Pantry’s Meal Service Coordinator, said. “Available resources such as MUNCH and The River Food Pantry can make the difference between being hungry and feeling content. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.”
With the help of volunteers, lunches are prepared at The River Food Pantry’s kitchen every Saturday morning and then distributed at the neighborhoods every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and all non-school days. The River is committed to offering healthy food choices that will help prepare children for social and educational growth. Collaboration with neighborhood staff and residents is absolutely critical in this program. The goal is to have residents become volunteer ambassadors for their neighborhood and be involved in distribution and production of lunches.
Click here to get involved with MUNCH.