By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Too many people in Milwaukee know what its like to go to bed hungry. According to the Hunger Task Force, in 2018, 1 in 11 households in Wisconsin experienced low or very low food security. Like many issues, the hunger crisis in Milwaukee was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it won’t end overnight, one organization is making it a little easier for families to put food on the table.
This summer, the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation is launching the “Summer Meal Delivery Pilot Program” in partnership with MPS and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, through its MKE Responds Fund. Through the program, families living in the 53205, 53206 and 53233 ZIP codes will be able to receive free meal bundles. Space is limited and the deadline to sign up is Friday, June 11.
Wendell Willis, the executive director of the MPS Foundation, noted that the hunger crisis was an issue prior to the pandemic. While Milwaukee Public Schools has always offered a meal program to children, the organization and various community partners noticed a spike in meal requests when the pandemic began.
The foundation started to dig a little deeper and found that certain ZIP codes were hit harder than most. In response, the organization began putting together a proposal last fall and winter for a meal program.
People were losing their jobs and their income and their transportation methods, Willis said. In Milwaukee, food deserts aren’t uncommon, and the pandemic simply created more barriers between people and food. Thanks to its funding, the program will provide meals to children and adults.
The program will begin delivering meals every Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting on Wednesday, July 7 through Wednesday, July 25. The plan is to distribute 1,000 meals each day.
Participants will receive two-day meal packets. The meals will be available to pick up at bus stops or outside individuals’ homes. The goal is to make access to food easier for children and adults living in 53205, 53206 and 53233.
Information provided during the registration process will determine the drop-off locations, Willis explained.
“The idea is to really make sure we’re providing realistic remedies for families,” Willis said. “Ideally it will be a spot they’re familiar with.”
In addition to food, participants will receive reading and other supplemental materials to help students combat summer slide.
Families not living in the one of the aforementioned ZIP codes can sign for the MPS Summer Food Service Program. In this program, participants can pre-order meal bundles and pick them up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and noon starting on Monday, June 21.
Participants in the Summer Food Service Program will be assigned a pickup spot at one of the following schools: Bethune, Browning, Congress, Cooper, Engleburg, Fifty-Third Street, La Escuela Fratney, Fernwood Montessori, Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language, North Division, Rogers Street Academy, Vieau, Vincent, Wedgewood Park International School, and Zablocki.
Both programs are available to families regardless of their MPS affiliation.
Willis stressed that the hunger crisis is a multi-layered issue. Solving the food insecurity problem in Milwaukee is going to take a lot of work.
“We have to think about these root causes and the number of band aids we’re putting on,” he said.
The first step in tackling food insecurity is solving the job issue, he said, which means creating jobs that offer family sustaining wages.
“If you don’t have income in your pocket, how are you going to have food,” Willis said.
Part of that means creating alternative methods to employment, such as partnering employers with students early on to help students gain valuable workplace skills.
The MPS Foundation plans to use information from this summer to determine how to further help Milwaukee residents and abate the food insecurity issue.
To register for the Summer Meal Delivery Pilot Program, go to http://mpsmke.com/mealdelivery. The deadline to sign up is Friday, June 11. To sign up for the Summer Food Service Program, click here or go to http://mpsmke.com/meals. Those interested can begin order their meal packets on Monday, June 7.