Barb Notestein Mobilized Communities and Brought School Breakfast to Milwaukee’s Children

Apr 16, 2024

Courtesy of Quadracci Family

50 Faces. 50 Stories. 50 Years of Fighting Hunger.

Hunger Task Force is proud to be Milwaukee’s only Free & Local food bank and Wisconsin’s anti-hunger leader. In celebration of our 50th Anniversary, Hunger Task Force is highlighting “50 Faces of Ending Hunger,” honoring the anti-hunger heroes who champion Free & Local and support our mission to end hunger.


Barb Notestein’s career has been defined by her unwavering dedication to advocating for public policy initiatives aimed at feeding families and children in Milwaukee. She joined Hunger Task Force in the late 1970s, starting as an advocate for food benefits and assisting clients with fair hearings before becoming the School Nutrition Coordinator. “We were trying to change the way the welfare office offered the food stamp (now FoodShare) program,” recalls Barb. In 1978, she was named the organization’s second Executive Director. She held the role until she left the organization in 1984.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Beloit College and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, Barb understood the importance of analyzing communities and local power structures to accomplish change. “I spent a lot of time studying city governments, learning how to make change for cities,” said Barb. “It set me up for coalition work with Hunger Task Force.”

One of her early successes was persuading the city and county to accept federal funding for administering food stamp programs. This victory demonstrated her ability to mobilize community support and engage policymakers effectively. However, it was her pivotal role in helping introduce free breakfast programs in Milwaukee schools during the 1980s that cemented her legacy.

Facing resistance from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and conservative interests, Barb led a coalition of over 100 local organizations in support of the initiative. She secured national grants for a feasibility study demonstrating the program’s viability within federal reimbursement limitations. In the absence of email, mobilizing parents involved buying stationery, educating them and having them hand-write letters to school board members. She noted, “When people are organized, they truly have the power to create change.”

Through relentless lobbying, grassroots organizing and media outreach, Barb and her team successfully convinced MPS to implement free breakfast programs in a dozen schools. This achievement, won by a single vote, has since expanded, providing vital nutrition to countless children across the city. “It was the biggest campaign I’ve ever managed in my life,” Barb highlighted.

Barb’s impact extends beyond her tenure at Hunger Task Force. She later served as a state assemblywoman, leveraging her legislative platform to champion causes such as family planning and small business development. Her subsequent roles in consulting and governmental appointments –including her appointment by President Bill Clinton to the position of Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Midwest – further solidified her reputation as a tireless advocate for the marginalized and underserved. Now enjoying retirement, Barb also served as Executive Director of Safe & Sound in Milwaukee for 11 years following her time at Hunger Task Force. In 2024 she was appointed to the Milwaukee Ethics Board by Major Cavalier Johnson and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission by Governor Tony Evers. In both roles, she will continue to serve and represent her community, state and region.

Throughout her career, Barb has remained committed to the principles of collective action and civic engagement. “I believe it’s important for everyone to be involved in seeking the public policies they want, talking to officials and voting in elections,” she said. Her enduring legacy at Hunger Task Force lies in her successful advocacy efforts for the school breakfast program, ensuring a more nourished and empowered future for Milwaukee’s children.

Meet the 50 Faces of Ending Hunger!

Click below to discover real people making a difference in the fight against hunger – new faces added each month! As we journey through our 50th year, keep checking back to meet more incredible individuals making a difference.