On Sept. 5, I participated in American Family’s Days of Caring by volunteering at the Second Harvest Foodbank in Madison, Wis. That afternoon, about 20 other coworkers and I packaged what seemed like thousands of pounds of generic Fruit Loops to be distributed to the hungry in Southwest Wisconsin.
Second Harvest Foodbank, southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief organization, is a nonprofit organization committed to ending hunger in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties through community partnerships. It serves nearly 141,000 people each year; 43 percent of whom are children.
From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, Second Harvest - together with its more than 225 partner agencies and programs - provided 12.6 million meals to those facing hunger. Second Harvest is part of Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity with 202 member food banks across the nation.
Second Harvest has the volunteer packaging program down to a science. It provided hair nets, aprons and gloves among five tables. Each table had its own scale, scoop and automatic bag tie apparatus into which you fed the end of the bag once it was filled with cereal. Given the competitive nature of those in the legal profession, it soon became a race to see which table could fill bags the fastest.
Our table won.
After just our short stint at scoopin’ loops, our upper arms and feet were a little sore the next day. It made us appreciate the comfortable office chairs at American Family. It also gave us a great opportunity to get to know people we see every day, but don’t have a chance to connect with.
You don’t really know someone until you’re up to your armpits in cereal with them…
At the end of our shift, we talked to another group that had just finished packaging vegetables. They shared that they volunteer once a week for several hours. That sort of dedication is impressive, but not hard to understand after you experience first-hand such fun while at the same time doing something that will help so many people.
Editor’s note: Want to help? American Family Insurance Madison, Wis., offices will be collecting food and cash donations for the Share Your Holidays food drive to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank. Donation bins are available through Dec. 9 at our Madison offices for anyone to drop off non-perishable food items. There are also containers for cash donations. Or, you can visit the Feeding America website to find local food banks near you.
Twelve years ago, I stepped out of my comfort zone and traveled alone to a place with the kind of reputation that would keep many people away. It was a risk that turned out to be life-changing.
I went to help build a home for a family in Juarez, Mexico, after reading an article about an organization called Missions Ministries, and decided to participate.
The entire family of seven had been living in a pallet home, barely the size of my youngest son’s bedroom. There were gaping holes in the roof, and the walls and the floor were made of dirt. The family had five children, the youngest only three weeks old. The mother was using a cardboard box as a crib for the baby, and the rest of the family slept on pieces of Styrofoam laid on the floor. There was no running water or electricity.
Children could only go to school if they could afford the required uniform. People in the community who were fortunate enough to find employment often made less than $1 a day.
The experience opened my eyes to a whole new world and gave me a new appreciation to the many blessings I take for granted every day.
The following year I took my somewhat reluctant husband with me. The year after that, we brought our then 4- and 6 year-old sons. We continued to go each year, bringing more and more family and friends. Our third son joined us when he was only 2 years old.
During the last decade or so, we have been privileged to build many, many homes. In addition, we helped build a library, provided many community outreaches and helped distribute donated food, medicine, school supplies and clothing. We have sponsored a student for the last four years and have had a couple of opportunities to visit her when we were in Juarez.
We’re also involved with a continuing Christmas box outreach. Every year we distribute empty Tupperware boxes with packing lists for different ages of children to family, friends, coworkers and members of our church who support the work we’re doing. We ask them to shop for their “assigned” age/gender child and pack the boxes with items such as soap, toothpaste, underwear, gloves, small toys, etc. Before Christmas, we drive down to Juarez with hundreds of these Christmas boxes for the children in the community. These children would otherwise not receive anything for Christmas.
Our travels to Juarez have given us a meaningful perspective on how fortunate we are to have roofs over our heads and meals on our table every night. It has taught my children the importance of volunteering and giving time to others. Finally, it has been a launching pad to other opportunities to volunteer in our own neighborhood and community.
As I watch our sons head off to school this year, I reflect not only on how many blessings I take for granted but also on how blessed our family is to have discovered the joy that comes with helping others when and where we can.
As a husband, a father, and someone active in the Madison, Wis. community, it’s shocking: Nearly 19,000 kids in our area are at risk for insufficient nutrition.
The first time I heard that statistic, I didn't believe it. Not in Madison. After all, we are home to a world-class university, a progressive state government, and our economy does better than most at weathering national economic downturns.
It’s shocking, especially to those of us who don’t think twice about a trip to the grocery store or a visit to one of the many farmers’ markets in the area. There are colorful mountains of fresh, wholesome food - right?
And yet 19,000 kids may not get the healthy food they need to build strong bodies and healthy minds. Studies suggest that kids who go hungry early in life are 2 ½ times more likely to have poor overall health 10 to 15 years later. Those are simply terrible statistics.
As a community, we have the financial resources and compassion, the knowledge and the spirit to fix this problem. I know we can do a better job to get kids the nutrition they need. United Way’s Healthy Food for All Children initiative is leading the charge and together we can do this. We may not be able to solve world hunger, but we sure can feed the hungry child next door.
American Family learned about this new initiative just as we were starting a charitable foundation with professional golfer Steve Stricker and his wife, Nicki. Although it’s very early in the foundation’s development, we know its focus is helping to build strong families and healthy kids. We’ve identified nutrition and overall wellness as a place to start.
It’s a perfect fit. The Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation is pleased to make its first gift to the community through the United Way of Dane County’s Healthy Food for All Children initiative. We’re proud to help kick start this important work with a $50,000 gift. The initiative gets more fresh, healthy food to kids who need it right now and its 10-year plan includes measuring results so improvement can be maintained over time.
With your help we can achieve even more. Whether you donate, volunteer or educate others, why not help us? You can join in and support United Way of Dane County in this work by calling United Way 2-1-1 or log onto www.unitedwaydanecounty.org to volunteer or donate today.
Every child deserves the chance to achieve their dreams. Are you with us?
Editor’s note: United Way’s Healthy Food for All Children community plan is the result of a partnership between United Way, the Goodman Foundation and Community Action Coalition of Southeastern Wisconsin. It was introduced on June 24, and focuses on several strategies. It will enhance access to healthy foods for children and families and increase the capacity of neighborhoods and communities to support affordable healthy food choices. It will also maintain culturally appropriate healthy food during and after school, throughout summer programs and in childcare through expanded choices for students and integrated education on healthy living. More than 30 community leaders developed the plan that unifies the community in a common vision to increase options and availability of healthy food for children.
This first appeared as on op-ed in the Capital Times on July 17, 2013.
As a kid, I was a Girl Scout, and our motto was “Be Prepared.” That motto is one I’ve taken to heart and serves me well as a volunteer ambulance driver.
I began driving an ambulance about three years ago. My husband saw a flier asking for volunteers and he felt my caring nature, along with my ability to drive large vehicles like our friends 30’ motorhome, made me a good candidate to be an ambulance driver. You see, in small, rural communities like mine, emergency and fire services are staffed by volunteers.
The big difference between an ambulance and a motorhome is that with an ambulance, you have an injured passenger along with emergency medical technicians in the back. And, you have to get to a hospital as quickly and safely as you can, often driving in inclement weather on winding roads.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a fire, heart attack or large hazardous material spill, we’re ready to roll at a moment’s notice.
One of my more memorable calls was an accident during deer hunting season. A hunter tripped with a loaded gun and his self-inflicted injury was severe enough that it eventually cost him his leg. Because an ambulance doesn’t travel well through the woods, we walked a mile each way to carry him back to the ambulance.
Because of the wide range of emergencies we handle, we are constantly training. In addition to the required state and federal certifications, my team has monthly training meetings to keep our skills sharp.
I’ve learned a lot in three years and the learning has served me (and my co-workers) well. At our East Region Building, I’m a first responder for medical emergencies.
I’ve also shared life-saving tips with others. One simple and important tip I tell everyone is to keep a list of medications you or your family members are taking – including non-prescription ones – on or near the refrigerator. Be sure to include the dosage and frequency you take them. Because medical technicians and fire rescue teams always look at the refrigerator for this type of information, it’s there in case you’re injured and unable to speak for yourself.
As an ambulance driver, I know what can happen to people in the blink of an eye. When my pager goes off, I’m already thinking about what I may encounter as I’m racing to the Emergency Medical Services building.
No matter what time of day it is or what the weather is like, I always need to be prepared. Whether at work or at home I’m always ready to go.
I never grow tired of stories from those who’ve served in our Armed Forces.
As a young newspaper reporter, I met one of the last surviving veterans of WWI. Though 90 years had shriveled his frame, he stood tall and proud as I took his photo next to an American flag.
On another occasion, I interviewed one of the few surviving crew members of the U.S.S Indianapolis, the last American ship sunk by enemy forces in WWII. He recalled with vivid detail four days floating at sea until rescuers arrived.
And as a child, I listened intently as my father and uncle relived their war experiences from the Army and Navy, respectively. Though serving in a foreign land may not have been the optimal way to spend their youth, they never regretted the role they played in defending our nation’s freedoms.
I’ve met a good share veterans from my own generation as well – men and women who’ve served in numerous capacities, for many different reasons. Some, like me, were stateside in the Reserves, fortunate to have stayed out of harm’s way. Others weren’t so lucky – separated from their families for many months and by thousands of miles to serve our nation’s call.
As part of our 30 Days of Thanks, American Family recognized veterans for their service. We were pleased to hear from numerous people who have worn the uniform. Here are just a few comments we received:
- “I served in the Korean War on the front lines from late Feb 1951 until Dec 31, 1951, A VERY cold place – much like Minnesota – and we had no overshoes or winter sleeping bags....Brrr.”
- Sometimes we’re all forgotten about, and what we give up for our country. Family, health and life.”
- "I am a veteran – 4 years active duty, Security Forces USAF. I show my appreciation to Veterans everyday by acknowledging them when I see or meet them."
- "Yes, I am a Veteran of WWII – one of the few still alive. I was a medic and worked in a large Veteran's hospital as a surgical tech, so I saw the terrible results of war. I also lost some of friends I trained with."
- "Having served 21 years myself, I thank God everyday for these young men and women who keep us safe today. We must never forget however, all our veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and all the other victories forged by our gallant men and women in uniform."
Thank you to all those who took the time write. And thank you everyone who has served in the Armed Forces – in war, in peace, at home and overseas. We live the results of your service every day.
P.S.: Want to thank a veteran? Leave a comment, or head to our Facebook page and post a message on our Wall.