Food Recovery Network: Recovering the UW community

Madtown Lowdown | Wesley Cook | May 7, 2016

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This UW-Madison academic year has had a few bumps in it, from increasing light cast on campus racism to more and more moves to cut academic funding.  Many of the headlines don’t save room for the reasons so many of us came to this city, so it is now more important than ever to remind ourselves that we are all capable of reaching out and making others’ lives better. Isn’t that the Wisconsin Idea?


There are a lot of student organizations on campus, and most of them do great things—I won’t disagree. Just this past year, however, the Food Recovery Network (FRN) sprouted up.  FRN seeks to help countless families just barely off campus, by bringing food from Gordon Avenue Market to the Bayview townhouses on Friday afternoons.

1614055_986087994814824_7945713071809395496_oA national organization with 192 chapters, FRN was officially brought to our campus by UW sophomores Alec Armon and Joshua Baumgartner. They have two other integral members, Jena Kurtzer and Emma Nieting, who also work hard to coordinate events and reach out to community and campus members.  They serve anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds of food weekly, with a substantial assortment of what every meal needs—protein, veggies, carbs, etc.  The food is given to residents to take and eat in their own homes.
They stroll in, appreciatively fill up their dishes with food, and take it home to heat up for their family members. I’ve gone along with them to help serve food for a number of weeks, and every Friday it is apparent that this is what these students are passionate about.  This isn’t a ploy to put “started a student org” on their resume, or a reason to collect frivolous funding from the university—there is a growing need in the Madison area, and there are people taking action to mitigate the negative effects.

UW Shares the City

One problem is that students rarely leave campus.  Bayview is about four blocks from College Court, but probably 99% of students haven’t heard of it. All around us are other neighbors in need.  Actually, we don’t have to leave campus—I pass two non-profit buildings on my way to class every day, but I couldn’t tell you what exactly they are working for.  These organizations are underrated and underwhelmed with support.  They need humanpower, they need community integration, they need funding, and they need the thousands of us bored undergrads to start working on projects.

I spoke with Andy Heidt, Executive Director at Bayview, and he’s got projects in the works for years on the future calendar. Of the roughly 300 residents, Asian and Latinos make up about 65 and 30 percent, respectively. Mr. Heidt says that a lot of the residents are excellent gardeners, and during the summer they have garden plots in the community which provides not only a food source, but also an excellent pastime and learning experience for adults and children.  While school is out, kids at Bayview have full days of activities: educational programs taught by the kids’ school teachers and UW School of Education grad students in the morning, and recreation (swimming, cultural appreciation, and even field trips on Fridays) after lunch.  The Bayview community is incredibly warm and diverse—every time I’ve been there with FRN, each person I speak with is remarkably inviting and appreciative.

“Being part of the new and vital connections that our campus is making with the community is something we feel fortunate to be a part of.”

Alec, of FRN, told me that he feels that the organization has “found the perfect partner” in pairing up with Bayview. “The staff and community members are always so welcoming and make the process of food recovery efficient and enjoyable.” Andy Heidt couldn’t agree more—he said that when Alec and Josh came in with the proposal, he thought it was too good to be true.  Both ends of the partnership are full of ideas, and are very excited to expand their reach to help as many people as they can.  In a year, the goal is to be transporting food from multiple dining halls, and taking it to multiple outlets, multiple times each week.  To make this dream a reality, they need support from UW administration as well as the student body.

FRN’s plan is to continue their efforts through the summer and into the school year from here on out.  The best way to help them out is to get in touch via their WIN page and get involved with the weekly recovery events at Bayview, staying involved as the project grows.  They’re more than willing to hear out new partnerships and venture ideas, as well.  Administration and dining services are another crucial aspect of organizing and streamlining these operations.  Without additional support from the administrative end, development and expansion is a much slower process.

Madison can thrive if the residents take action—the impact this small group has made already is substantial, and with nudges from more of us with spare time, positive waves can and will be made.  Let’s make this “The Real UW”.

Find Bayview on Facebook here and UW’s FRN on Facebook here for more information.