Neighborhood House of Milwaukee serves guests with dignity utilizing ‘client choice pantry’ model
Neighborhood House of Milwaukee is an organization that inspires discovery. Founded in 1945 as a place for urban youth, families and seniors, Neighborhood House is a community center serving individuals and families at all stages of life. With an extensive 75-year history of serving the Near West Side Neighborhood, it can be surprising to learn that the food pantry at Neighborhood House is just over a year old. Early in 2020, the closure of a long-standing pantry in the neighborhood left a noticeable gap in access to healthy food for residents of this Milwaukee community. To address this need, Neighborhood House partnered with Hunger Task Force to add a walk-up, full-choice pantry to their operations.
“We opened the pantry successfully during the worst part of the pandemic for Milwaukee,” says Jeff Martinka, Executive Director at Neighborhood House of Milwaukee. “We’ve been able to serve over 11,000 people since opening, and it’s turned into a really important element of our community center.”
In an area widely regarded a “food swamp”, the blocks surrounding the community center are saturated with corner stores and fast-food restaurants offering highly-processed, highly-salted and highly-sugared options. However, the neighborhood distinctly lacks a proper grocery store offering fresh produce and nutritious staples for residents. “This neighborhood as some tough food-access issues,” says Saige Matson, Food Pantry Manager. “People visiting the pantry are interested in feeding their families more nutritious meals. The food we receive from Hunger Task Force is always healthy and includes items we know our guests really like.”
Instead of pre-packing bags of food for distribution – a method used by many Milwaukee pantries during the pandemic – Neighborhood House adopted a ‘client choice pantry’ model for the new food pantry. A menu of healthy options is presented to guests, allowing families and individuals to choose preferred foods to fit their tastes and needs. “It’s not just a matter of reducing waste. Giving people a chance to pick adds dignity to their lives, and frankly, it adds nutrition to their lives,” says Martinka.
Hunger Task Force is proud to work alongside Neighborhood House as they continue to serve the Near West Side Neighborhood, and the feeling is mutual with pantry staff. “Working with Hunger Task Force helps us operate at a higher capacity,” says Matson. “It’s so helpful to have such a responsive partner.”