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Volunteer Profile: Addressing Weekend Hunger at Thoreau Elementary

By Bobbie Malone

Many students at Thoreau Elementary School and their families lack sufficient food on weekends. Forty-five percent of the children attending Thoreau receive free or reduced-fee lunches, and students have asked their teachers for food help for years. While Thoreau students are not the only children in Madison facing weekend hunger, this school, on Nakoma Road, is the public elementary school serving students in the neighborhood of Temple Beth El.

A coalition of local congregations and neighborhood groups has mobilized to address this need. Westminster Presbyterian Church minister Scott Anderson organized a coalition that includes Midvale Baptist Church, Glenwood Moravian Community Church, and Temple Beth El along with the Nakoma League, a century-old neighborhood association, and Brad Bodden, whose American Family Insurance agency is located directly across Nakoma Road from the school. The Thoreau Weekend Food Bag Program also obtained grants from American Family Insurance and GHC. The program is also affiliated with the school nutrition program Food for Thought, which already distributes food at several other public schools.

Vic and Sue Levy live in Nakoma, and their children attended Thoreau. As a Social Action Committee member, Vic represented TBE as he began attending coordination meetings beginning in the fall of 2018. The Thoreau Weekend Food Bag Program worked to find the most effective means for dealing with the weekend hunger issue by providing four meals per weekend for as many of these children as possible.

After months of figuring out the logistics—establishing a fiscal agent and affiliations, learning the health and safety rules regarding food storage, and writing grant applications to raise funds—in October volunteers finally initiated the program to place the necessary food in students’ backpacks on Friday mornings.

School social workers chose the initial group of children to receive the shelf-stable food, which comes from the River Food Pantry. The meals include protein-rich food and a fruit cup. Although the program involves only 50 students this year, it will double during the 2020–21 school year and reach an additional 50 students the following year. The $30,000 budget already secured covers all three years of operation.

Thanks to the generosity of TBE members through the increase in High Holy Day Food Drive funds, Rabbi Biatch’s discretionary fund, and other members’ financial commitments to the program, TBE’s participation matches that of the other neighborhood partners. In March 2020 , TBE will be in charge of the actual food distribution, and Vic will be looking for volunteers to help with our congregation’s commitment to pack the bags each Thursday of that month and deliver them each Friday. To participate, contact Vic at

August 14, 2020 24 Av 5780