A second van for the MUNCH mobile lunch program means more Northside children have reliable access to nutritious meals when they’re not in school. Photo by Great Lakes

By Melissa Gloudeman
Great Lakes Higher Ed. Corp. & Affiliates

An Operation Fresh Start construction crew gets to and from worksites in a new van purchased with a Brighter Futures Grant from Great Lakes. Photo: Oper. Fresh Start

In several Northside neighborhoods, children who might otherwise have gone hungry on days when school isn’t in session are eating nutritious meals thanks to The River Food Pantry. The River’s MUNCH (Madison Unites to Nourish Children at Home) program, launched in June 2016, addresses food insecurity on the Northside by distributing hundreds of lunches every weekend and during summer and holiday school breaks. But it was soon apparent that the need exceeded capacity of the new program.

One year later, The River has expanded MUNCH with a $50,000 Brighter Futures Grant from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates. They purchased a second cargo van in late summer 2017 — this one insulated, which means increased access to healthier options, such as dairy products and fresh produce. And that’s not the only benefit.

“The Brighter Futures Grant is allowing us to broaden our mobile lunch program into more Northside neighborhoods to feed more kids on weekends and non-school days,” said Charles McLimans, Executive Director of The River Food Pantry. “We can make a difference in the hunger gap and the achievement gap and give our local kids a brighter future.”

As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, employees at all nine Great Lakes offices across the country awarded grants in their communities, totaling $525,000 in Brighter Futures Grants to 14 nonprofit organizations. In addition to The River Food Pantry, Madison employees selected Operation Fresh Start to receive a $50,000 grant.

“Madison employees identified hunger and youth development as two of the most pressing issues affecting our community,” said Angie Adamo of Great Lakes, who led the 19-person Brighter Futures Grant Committee in the selection of both Madison grant recipients. “The River Food Pantry and Operation Fresh Start are already doing good work, and we’re excited to help them make an even bigger impact.”

Operation Fresh Start provides job training, education and independent living skills to Dane County youth ages 16‒24 to help them complete a high school diploma and continue to employment or postsecondary education. Operation Fresh Start used its $50,000 grant to purchase a van for transportation to and from worksites, food for participants, nursing supplies and technology to support program administration.

“This is an incredible opportunity to help fulfill crucial organizational needs, which allows us to focus on our mission — providing disconnected youth a path to self-sufficiency,” said Greg Markle, Executive Director of Operation Fresh Start.

An extension of Great Lakes’ education philanthropy and Great Lakes Gives employee giving program, Brighter Futures Grants were designed to promote lasting change in the nine communities where Great Lakes employees live and work.

In addition, Madison employees have been using their paid Volunteer Time Off at The River Food Pantry and Operation Fresh Start to complement the financial award with the gift of their time.