By Lauri Lee
Northside Economic Development Coalition

When the table is set, everyone gets to eat. The River Food Pantry finalized their strategic plan last fall, which set the table for the organization to achieve a fully nourished community through partnerships and collaboration around their holistic service model that focuses on household stability in the areas of food, housing, health and work/life. As the busiest food pantry in the county, leadership at The River realized they needed to optimize efficiencies and enhance distribution processes in order to serve more than 1,000 Dane County households per week. 

To align their services delivery model with the organization’s core values, The River implemented a number of changes. They’d like to move to a new facility on the Northside in the future, but until then, they wanted to optimize the current facility and be ready when the right opportunity presents itself.

  • JLA Architects analyzed and recommended a reconfigured traffic pattern to achieve a less congested shopping experience, a more open and welcoming space and room for a volunteer center. 
  • The UW helped devise a better method of food distribution that has resulted in 25% more food being distributed than last year. Food is now distributed by nutritional categories instead of by the weight of the food. Based on household size, visitors receive 20% more nutritious food by using points for each nutritional category. 
  • Pantry hours were updated to reflect the efficiencies of the improved shopping experience. See the highlighted box on page 21 for details.
  • Community meals are available five times (six times for seniors and veterans) each week for Dane County residents, when the pantry is open for grocery distribution. No registration is needed to attend a community meal and there is no limit on how many meals you can attend each week.

Partnerships and working together with other organizations are key to serving more people and better meeting their needs. A new collaboration, Food for Success Coalition, started June 15 to more efficiently provide food to homeless and high-risk students and their families in Madison Metropolitan School District schools with high percentages of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. 

When Food for Thought came under the fiscal umbrella of The River Food Pantry in early June, the groundwork was set for Selfless Ambition to join them in the coalition that was announced June 15. With synchronized services, the enterprises are stronger than they were as individual organizations. The coalition qualifies for lower food prices, eliminates service overlap and competition in volunteer solicitation. 

Food for Thought Initiative is a volunteer organization with in-school pantries at Mendota, Sandburg and Hawthorne Elementary, Cherokee Heights Middle and East High school. Selfless Ambition operates food pantries in Leopold, Glendale and Lake View elementary schools, and plans to expand into nearly 25 schools. 

To help nourish a connected community, volunteer at The River. Visit to help with:

  • public shopping sessions, stocking shelves, sorting donations and cleaning.
  • computer skills to assist with client registration and check out.
  • preparing and serving community meals for up to 250 people.
  • assisting with lunch production and/or distribution. Volunteers are needed every day of summer break.
  • raising funds, food and awareness in the community by hosting a food drive or starting your own fundraiser.

To learn more about The River, visit