Newly renovated market offers free food to Wisconsin Dells district

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (WMTV) -- A problem across the country, state and region: school-aged children struggling with hunger.

In an effort to curb the problem, Wisconsin schools have teamed up with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, to make a change.

At Wisconsin Dells High School, that change comes by the name Vine Street Market, the district’s food market. This year marks the second for the market, which opened for the first time this school year on Tuesday.

Of the 1,800 students in the Wisconsin Dells District, more than half qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Statistics like these sparked an idea for a district-wide food market.

“Just having a market available for any kid who wanted to. Whether they needed something, whether they forgot to pack their lunch, whether they just wanted a bonus snack,” says Allison Hoch, associate principal of Wisconsin Dells High School.

The market is completely volunteer run, and free to any student, or family member of a student, in the district. Organizers say it has been a great way for students to show support for their classmates in need.

“The kids do that work in the market, just naturally they see their buddy’s in some need, and they don’t have to say a word,” says Holly Waterman, board member for Happy Kids Network. “That’s really the part that’s so awesome. We see this level of compassion and connection that the school district is very grateful for.”

The market started last school year, with a grant from Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. Local non-profit Happy Kids Network also contributes.

Those working in the market tell NBC15 News, the market is about more than just food and nutrition.

“Equality matters. Compassion matters. When we can make it that anybody in the school district can come in and help themselves to whatever they want or need on any given day, then that changes the conversation,” says Autumn Giddings, food coordinator for the Vine Street Market.

The goal is to expand the market year by year, watching students grow in the process.

“Watching the kids together in that room is pretty amazing,” Waterman says.

The market will be open four days a week, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.