Madison East High’s new snack fridge helps fight food insecurity

Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin is extending their reach to students this holiday season.
Updated: Dec. 12, 2022 at 9:00 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin provides free food to more than 50 school markets in 16 counties, but getting students and their families to take that food can be a challenge.

School leaders frequently find themselves combatting stigmas associated with food insecurity, which can prevent students from accepting food at school markets, according to SHFB Youth & Family Initiatives Manager, Brian Squire.

“Schools are working really hard to normalize the fact that everybody deserves nutritious food, and everybody needs it at different times,” explained Squire. “It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is or what’s going on in your world, everyone is hungry sometimes.”

Some successful tactics Squire has helped schools implement include drive-through pick-ups for families, home delivery services, or online portals accessed by QR codes, where students can select the food items they want in a more private way.

“One of the things that I think we all learned during the pandemic is that choice isn’t just the ability to come in and pick the food that you want, but also the ability to pick the model within which you receive that food,” said Squire.

The best way to make school food market programs succeed, according to Squire, is to have someone inside the school spearhead the effort.

At Madison’s East High School, that person is Family Consumer Science Teacher, Emily Sonnemann.

“I have the best job here, I think. Food really is this conduit for community and relationships and conversation,” said Sonnemann.

Sonnemann works to break down barriers by first building relationships with her students.

“It’s just such a pleasure every day to have kids in the kitchen, working with their groups, having a good time,” explained Sonnemann. “It really provides me an opportunity to have a lot of conversation with kids about all kinds of things.”

This most recent semester, Sonnemann started a snack fridge in her classroom, which is available to anyone at school.

“Word has gotten out and kids show up and they’re like ‘I heard you have snacks here.’ And I’m like ‘yeah they’re here and they’re for everyone, take what you’d like.’ And they’re just stunned and so grateful,” told Sonnemann.

Sonnemann said more people continue to show up to grab snacks, including teachers.

“Teachers who’ve said, ‘I’ve been spending all my own money on this because I know these kids are hungry and they need this.’ And I’m like you don’t have to spend any money, you just come here and stock your classroom,” she explained.

All the food is provided by Second Harvest, but that’s not all the foodbank does to support Sonnemann and East High.

“Second Harvest was like we’ll give you all this food for free and the food that has a cost to it – we’ll give you $10,000 to spend,” said Sonnemann.

This is helping supplement her tight budget, much of which is used to buy food for her cooking courses. Now she is able to encourage students to not only take snacks, but entire meals worth of food, to practice cooking at home for their families.

“Last time I ordered all that food and it disappeared, so I thought well I’ll order more, and 4,000 pounds of food just got delivered,” Sonnemann said, referencing a food donation drop off by Second Harvest to East High School in November.

“We’re really excited to be working with Emily and the team there to start to create kind of this synergy between sort of those life skills and the school markets,” said Squire.

The number of schools Second Harvest supports continues to grow, and Squire added that nearly all of Second Harvest’s partner organizations reported record numbers of households served this year, making the need for support greater than ever.

The Share Your Holidays Campaign, now in its 27th year at NBC15, helps support Second Harvest in its mission to end food insecurity in South Central Wisconsin.

Donations to the campaign can be made online. The goal for this year’s campaign is to provide five million meals to families in need.

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