The Tomah Health Community Foundation is helping to get healthy food within the reach of struggling families in Monroe County. Officials from the philanthropic arm of Tomah Health Thursday donated $3,000 to the Second Harvest Foodbank’s FoodShare program.
“The support from the foundation has been there for over six years now and we really appreciate them because it helps us and the people of Tomah,” said Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin FoodShare outreach specialist Brian Larson.
Formerly known as food stamps, FoodShare Wisconsin allows eligible residents to receive a debit card that is loaded with a person’s FoodShare benefits that can be used at most grocery stores and many Farmers’ Markets.
Larson said too often people who are at risk of hunger and eligible for FoodShare Wisconsin benefits don’t enroll. “Some people are reluctant to go to local food pantries,” said Larson. “This allows them to make their own individual choices; they might have dietary needs and if they have the FoodShare card they can use that in the grocery store.”
Larson said the FoodShare program helps ensure potentially eligible participants learn how to obtain benefits while meeting larger community needs by drawing down federal dollars into the local economy.
From July 2018 through June 2019, Second Harvest assisted with the submission of 105 FoodShare Wisconsin applications in Monroe County, which generated $171,253 in FoodShare benefits for residents to use to purchase food at local grocers while generating $306,544 in economic impact in Monroe County. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that every $5 spent in FoodShare benefits generates nearly $9 in local economic activity.
Under the program, the USDA will double the Foundation’s $3,000 donation to $6,000 which Tomah Health Community Foundation president Pete Reichardt said pays big dividends. “Part of our goal at the Tomah Health Community Foundation is to offer services that provide health and wellness in our community,” said Reichardt. “Our board members live and work in our community and the funds that we are able to donate come directly from fundraising events that we have, so it’s people within our community that our donating time, talents and resources that enable us to make donations like this.”
Reichardt said the FoodShare program meets the mission of the foundation. “Studies have shown that if children are fed well it creates a better family and children want to learn more and lead better lives,” Reichardt said.
Larson said even though the donation is being made at the holidays, the program runs year-round. “People pay attention to specific things at the holidays but throughout the year the need is still there,” Larson added.
FoodShare Outreach accounts for 15-percent of total meals distributed annually in the organization’s 16-county service area including Adams, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Juneau, Lafayette, Monroe, Richland, Rock, Sauk and Vernon. Second Harvest hopes to submit 3,762 applications in their 16-county territory and generate $11 million in economic impact and 2.2 million meals this fiscal year.
Key partners in Tomah and Monroe County that assist Second Harvest in providing one-on-one application assistance and distributing FoodShare Wisconsin information include, but are not limited to: Boys & Girls Club, Tomah Kids Cafe; Neighbor for Neighbor Food Pantry; The Kupper-Ratsch Senior Center; Tomah VA Medical Center; the Veterans Assistance Foundation; Families First of Monroe County; Faith in Action – Monroe County; Western Technical College – Tomah; the Job Center; Riverfront, Inc., and; Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites.
The FoodShare program began in June 2009 and is promoted through a volunteer-staffed, toll-free help line (1-877-FOOD-635 and 1-855-FOOD-635). Callers are screened for eligibility and encouraged to apply for FoodShare benefits if deemed potentially eligible. They are referred to sites throughout the Foodbank’s service area, to receive free one-on-one application assistance from FoodShare outreach specialists.