Open Seat Food Pantry seeing growing need on UW-Madison campus

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Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 3:53 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2023 at 10:02 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - There is a small room on the UW-Madison campus that can be a lifeline for students. Called the Open Seat Food Pantry, it serves any student who walks through the door.

“As of October, we are serving about 1500 unique individuals in the U-W-Madison area, whether that is an undergraduate or graduate student, one of their children or family members or roommates that might be living with them,” said Amelia Weidemann who helps run the pantry.

The pantry opened in 2016 and the shelves are stocked by Second Harvest Foodbank. Weidemann says right now, there is a growing need. “We open at noon, and before noon, there will be a line from our door to the elevators,” said Weidemann.

“Food insecurity is a huge issue on college campuses, especially here at UW Madison,” said Julia Wiebe from Second Harvest. Wiebe knows first-hand the struggles students can face. She helps them apply for state FoodShare assistance, formerly known as SNAP benefits, something she says is difficult for college students. The way the system is set up, they have more hoops to jump through.

“They would have to meet some exemptions in order to be eligible for FoodShare, like you’d have to be working part time, caring for a minor child, or doing like work study kind of thing,” said Wiebe.

That’s where a place like Open Seat comes in. Students can simply show up, no questions asked. “We do not ask anybody to prove their food insecurity,” said Weidemann. She adds that food insecurity exists on a spectrum, “It might be that you don’t have access to healthy food, it might be that you just do not know where your next meal is coming from,” she said.

It’s a critical resource for a group many people don’t associate with food insecurity. “There are multiple reasons why students are food insecure, tuition is a huge expense, not only do you have to pay for tuition, but you also have to pay for housing, you also have to pay for school supplies,” said Weidemann.

“It might come down to choosing okay, do I buy this book I need for class or am I eating ramen noodles for the next month?” said Wiebe.

That’s what keeps people like Weidemann working to meet that need. But it’s something, she says, is getting more difficult. “We’re trying, that has been a huge challenge, just because we are trying to serve significantly more people than we have been, but financially, nothing’s changed,” she said.

Weidemann works to keep the food coming in and going out. She has seen firsthand how food insecurity can affect a family, and how hard it can be to even walk in the doors. But she says the effort is worth it.

“We do have a lot of repeat guests and so I think it having repeat shoppers that does show that something about it is working, where they feel comfortable coming into this space,” said Weidemann.

Open Seat has two locations. For the addresses and hours you can visit Open Seat’s website:

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