Bay View Community Center Food Pantry Expands Fresh Offerings Through Gardening

Jun 17, 2024

The Bay View Community Center (BVCC) Food Pantry, a long-time partner of the Hunger Task Force, serves over 300 households each month. While the gardens at BVCC are a recent addition, offering fresh food has always been a priority for the center’s food pantry. “Everyone has a right to fresh, healthy food,” says Chad VanDierendonck, Food Pantry Manager. “Being able to select your own produce helps dignify the experience of coming to a food pantry, and we want folks to know we really care about them.”

In 2019, Sharon Sadowski, Food Pantry Volunteer Lead and unofficial “Head Gardener,” began volunteering at BVCC. Sharon comes from a family of gardeners and has brought her passion for gardening to the community center. “My dad grew up on a farm, and my grandmother had vegetable gardens,” Sharon shares. Her involvement has been pivotal in expanding BVCC’s gardening efforts.

The community center’s gardening initiative started small with just a few raised beds for herbs. Over time, volunteers and community members transformed a neglected area west of the building into a vibrant garden space. Today, BVCC’s gardens grow more than two dozen varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs including cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, kale, strawberries, thyme, garlic and onions.

The food pantry supplements its garden produce with hundreds of pounds of fresh produce from the Hunger Task Force Farm. This partnership allows BVCC to plan its gardening efforts effectively and provide a broader variety of fresh foods. “The Farm helps prioritize growing certain things,” says Chad. “Then we can focus on expanding the variety of fresh produce for our pantry customers.”

Recognizing the cultural needs of the local community, the gardening team has tailored their crops to include preferred peppers and herbs. The team, led by Sharon, consists of five dedicated volunteers who prepare beds, plant seeds, tend to the garden and harvest the produce. Sharon herself volunteers 10-20 hours a week with additional support from dozens of volunteers during peak seasons.

BVCC is also committed to educating the community on how to incorporate fresh produce into their meals. “We are eager to use our newly-renovated commercial kitchen to expand our efforts in preparing, cooking and sampling items grown in the garden to better show how someone can incorporate these fresh foods into meals familiar to their families and households,” Chad explains.

The success of BVCC’s gardening efforts has attracted interest from local churches and organizations. BVCC now manages nearly 800 square feet of garden space across multiple properties including a sizable straw bale garden behind Grace Presbyterian Church and beds at Village Roots Garden and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

“It’s important to me that children are receiving this produce,” Sharon remarks. “If all you’ve ever had is canned vegetables, it’s hard to develop an appreciation for fresh food. I want to make sure kids get that opportunity.” The gardens have fostered a sense of community, with neighbors donating surplus produce from their own gardens.

Fresh produce and herbs from the BVCC gardens are distributed through the food pantry and a roadside stand outside the center. To support the Bay View Community Center Food Pantry or learn more about their gardening efforts, visit

Hunger Task Force is Milwaukee’s Free & Local food bank and Wisconsin’s anti-hunger leader. The organization’s core values are Dignity, Justice, Equity, Compassion and Stewardship. Hunger Task Force feeds people today by providing healthy and culturally appropriate food to hungry children, families and seniors in the community absolutely free of charge. Hunger Task Force also works to end future hunger by advocating for strong public policies and nutrition programs at the local, state and federal level.