Door County cherries. Plump plums. Juicy peaches. These are just a few of the fresh fruits recently offered through Munch, The River Food Pantry’s mobile meal program. This month, our team had the opportunity to climb aboard the colorful van to help distribute these fruits alongside bags of snacks, drinks, and sandwiches at several stops throughout Madison.
Our shifts began with an overview of south central Wisconsin’s busiest food pantry. Volunteer coordinator Debbie Bormann stressed the importance of volunteers and donations to The River, which has seen a huge spike in new households this year – especially due to the hike in prices for gas and groceries.
Munch coordinator Jarod Hoffarth then gave us a tour of the van, explained our responsibilities, and invited one of us per shift to ride with him to local neighborhoods, apartment complexes, community centers, and libraries while the other volunteers followed in their vehicles.
“I really appreciated Jarod's approach to leading our time – he was extremely energetic, soft hearted, and clearly cared about making the experience the best possible for the people we were serving as well as for the volunteers,” Brendan Armstrong said.
At each stop, Jarod beeped the friendly horn of the van and set out signs in English and Spanish announcing: “Free Meals For All!” Then, we opened the doors and began serving anyone who showed up.
“At the majority of our stops we were greeted by kids and families waiting for us,” Ann Raschein said. “I am grateful that The River is helping to fulfill this need in our community.”
For the next 10-15 minutes while we distributed meals, Jarod would greet the regulars and newcomers, play games with children if they had to wait in line, and encourage them to guess the riddle of the day. The prize? Candy! Kids enjoyed coloring pictures and taking home children’s books, too.
“Munch is more than a healthy meal,” Samantha Haas said. “It’s about connection.”
Chris Venden said the highlight of her shift was when two little girls gave her a big hug and said thank you. “Seeing the kids’ smiling faces come running to the van was heart-warming, and they were so excited about the fruit options. What a wonderful program, providing healthy lunches to kids, families and anyone in need,” she said.
The River is always looking for volunteers, and hopping aboard the Munch van is just one of the many ways you can get involved. “Working on the Munch mobile would be a great way for a parent and child (age 12 and up) to volunteer together, too," said Dan Miller. You can also make a donation to help fund the program like Chris has on behalf of Mad City Dream Homes. “It's great to donate but even better to volunteer and see it work,” Chris said. “Great things are happening at The River Pantry!!!”