Dane County Executive Joe Parisi on June 24 joined representatives of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and Badger Prairie Needs Network to highlight new investments the partners are making within the local food pantry system to bolster food delivery and food storage capacity as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect area residents.

Dane County’s efforts first kicked off in April, when Parisi announced $3 million would go to help Second Harvest acquire local food for Dane County food pantries through July.

Parisi on June 24 signed a resolution doubling Second Harvest’s funding to $6 million, which will increase deliveries to Dane County food pantries through the end of October and help even more Dane County residents and local food producers.

The expanded need in food during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed inadequacies with storing refrigerated and frozen foods in the current distribution network.

Dane County originally retained four cold storage semi-trailers to help Second Harvest store more meat, dairy, and fresh produce. To further fill this storage gap, Dane County is partnering with Badger Prairie Needs Network (BPNN) to build a 1,000 sq. ft. expansion of their cold storage capacity at their current facility, and serve as a drop-site for food banks as part of their distribution efforts.

The $320,887 investment will serve as both a short- and long-term perishable food storage hub—critical for the region’s food pantry system.

“By increasing our community’s capacity for cold food storage at BPNN, we will be better able to serve Dane County residents facing food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Parisi.

“Our extended partnership with Second Harvest will allow us to continue to support markets for local agricultural producers and make sure shelves at food pantries remain stocked,” Parisi added. “A huge thank you goes out to BPNN and Second Harvest for their efforts over the past few months and partnering with us to further address this need countywide.”

Feeding America projects the number of food insecure people in Dane County will jump 63% as a result of the pandemic. Second Harvest distributed 2,047,442 lbs. of food in Dane County between March 15 and June 6.

BPNN has observed a 500% increase in the number of new households requesting food assistance. Between March 13 and June 19, approximately 184,743 lbs. of food was distributed through BPNN, which allowed 5,891 individuals to be served.

During that same time frame last year, approximately 129,365 pounds of food was distributed, benefiting 3,392 residents.

“The cooler project funded by Dane County will increase BPNN’s capacity to serve as a drop-point for perishable foods that smaller west-side pantries need on hand, but have no space to store. With a local drop-point approach, food banks will make fewer trips, saving time and money, and smaller pantries on the west side can restock without time consuming raid trips to food banks located on Madison’s east side,” said Marcia Kasieta, Executive Director of BPNN.

“Working collaboratively to address critical infrastructure needs, like adequate cooler space, is something we do particularly well in Dane County,” Kasieta added. “We are grateful to Second Harvest and the Dane County Executive for investing in grassroots efforts, like those at BPNN, to end hunger locally.”

Through their $6 million COVID-19 food partnership program, Dane County has linked Second Harvest with Dane County Dairy and Pork Producers, the Dane County Farmers’ Market, and Fairshare CSA Coalition so more products can be bought directly, which in turn is benefiting local farmers and growers.

The partnership is bringing producers and consumers together to improve sales for farmers while resupplying dwindling cupboards of area food banks during this difficult time.

Dane County and Second Harvest will continue to build upon their work through the end of October to make sure Dane County residents have access to healthy, locally grown food and/or raised produce. This extension will greatly benefit local farmers whose produce comes into its prime in the late summer months.

“Second Harvest is incredibly grateful for the extension of our contract with Dane County,” said Michelle Orge, President & CEO of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.

“This contract extension is an acknowledgment that the increased level of hunger in Dane County as a result of the pandemic is a long-term problem that requires long-term solutions,” Orge added.

“It also represents an affirmation that the efforts of Second Harvest and our amazing network of partner agencies are working to meet the needs of those facing hunger in Dane County,” Orge added. “Finally, it is a tremendous example of the lengths our county leadership are willing to go to meet the needs of residents who are struggling now and for the foreseeable future.”

Pooling community resources to fight hunger, BPNN’s work with the Kitchen to Table initiative reduces waste by distributing surplus prepared food to meal sites and pantries throughout southern Wisconsin in partnership with Community Action Coalition, Second Harvest, Feeding Wisconsin, Placon, Dane County, Epic, UW Health, CUNA Mutual Group, and Eurest Food Group.

In just the past three months, BPNN has recovered over 90,000 pounds of food—on track to more than double the amount of food recovered during the initiative’s first full year of operation. Second Harvest worked with BPNN to help secure a van for the program.

In addition, BPNN recently received funds from Public Health Madison & Dane County to lease a box truck that will allow staff and volunteers to safely resume food recoveries at local retailers. This will help retailers reduce food waste while getting lots of free food to BPNN pantry guests. The box truck can accommodate pallets and a lift gate, allowing BPNN to provide contactless food recovery without putting volunteers at risk. This setup will be funded through December 2020.

BPNN first moved to Verona in 2014 when Dane County leased the former Badger Prairie Health Center Administration building to the organization for its work to support families in the Verona area.

Parisi included $160,000 in his 2019 budget to help fund the facility’s expansion, intended to improve the physical environment of the county-owned facility and allow BPNN to continue to grow.

The resolution awarding BPNN $320,887 in funding to construct extra cooler space is expected to be approved in the coming weeks by the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

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