Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin launched its pilot program at UW-Madison, “Helpful Harvest,” testing an online food ordering system to connect people who are qualified to receive its resources.
The three-month-long testing began in June, providing free groceries for anyone who submits an order through their website.
As a member of Feeding America, Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin was established in 1986. The new program is part of its overall commitment to providing free food for community members — and to tackle food insecurity statewide.
The United States Department of Agriculture released its data on national food insecurity, stating that close to 12 percent of U.S. households were affected in 2017.
According to Second Harvest’s data, nearly 10 percent of residents in southern Wisconsin struggle to put food on the table.
However, it can be hard to find people who are going hungry, since food insecurity can be invisible.
“We know that there is about 15 percent of people who need the help from the emergency food system, [but] they are reluctant to get that because of the stigma out there,” said Kris Tazelaar, the Communications Manager at Second Harvest.
To better combat stereotypes associated with receiving groceries from food pantries, Second Harvest offers participants anonymity when placing free food orders online.
“If we can remove the stigma of having people walk through the doors of a food pantry, we are hoping that this will allow them to feel more comfortable as they ask for help,” Tazelaar said.
As stories about hunger continue to draw public attention, recent data from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates the problem is even more serious among college students.
GAO conducted a review of 31 studies that focus on food insecurity on college campuses in 2018, concluding that up to a third of U.S. college students struggle with food insecurity.
In an effort to undergird student wellness, UW-Madison has been promoting its food pantries, food assistance grants, as well as partnering with nonprofit organizations such as Second Harvest.
“The initiative around this is that we are in the business of supporting our university community, and that means also providing assistance to those that need a little more assistance in order to be successful students at UW-Madison,” said Carl Korz, the associate director for dining and hospitality services at Wisconsin Union.
Starting in June, Second Harvest collaborated with UW-Madison as setting up two distribution locations on campus: the Union South hotel lobby and Bascom Hall. This provides university members with accessible locations to test out the pilot program.
“I think that is a really good idea to do the online ordering, it allows people to choose food that they want, they are not feeling like they have to take someone’s discarded food,” said Lydia Zepeda, a UW-Madison professor of Consumer Science.
Although the college food pantry partnership is well underway, as people focus on prevention, it is only a step to treat symptoms of food insecurity — but not its cause.
“It is not an emergency anymore, it is a chronic and a structural problem,” Zepeda said. “I commend them tremendously for the work they do, but what we really need is better wages.”
At this time, Second Harvest does not know the program’s long-term impact, but they are committed to going through the entire testing period and analyzing the final results.
“Ultimately, we are helping Feeding America to see if it is a viable program nationwide, not to mandate, but to offer to some of its other member food banks,” Tazelaar said.