At 7:30 a.m. on a recent February morning, a handful of students from Wisconsin Hills Middle School braved the early-morning cold and snow to help load vehicles with bread for the area's hungry.
The bread, excess donated by the Brownberry Bakery Outlet Store in Brookfield, will find its way to hundreds of food pantries in southeastern Wisconsin thanks to Food for the Hungry. Volunteers with the Wauwatosa-based organization pick up bread from Brownberry daily, and Elmbrook students help out a few times each week.
Eighth-grader Jon Volz has been helping for about a year, no matter the weather.
"I figured I wanted to help someone," Volz said about his motivation for showing up.
Susan McDonald, a social worker at the school, said the opportunity prompts students like Volz to study hard and behave. To participate, kids need to keep up on school work and avoid infractions.
"The kids really look forward to this. … They're working hard and motivated," she said.
Students have even started recruiting friends to join the effort, McDonald said, and a few continued helping during summer vacation.
Life lessons learned
McDonald and special education teacher Ceil Carse bring about 10 Wisconsin Hills students to help at Brownberry once a week during the school day's first period.
Later this spring, the students will take a half-day field trip to learn what happens to the bread after they've loaded it up.
Besides offering students a break from the usual school day, the service teaches teamwork and the importance of following directions.
Eighth-grader Alena Maro said she likes working with the other volunteers, who are a mix of ages and personalities.
"I just like meeting the people and talking to them," she said.
Born in retirement
Mike Czarnecki founded Food for the Hungry in fall 2002. At age 59, the Tosa resident found himself retired on disability. He was spending a lot of time around the house until his wife, Irene, intervened.
"My wife got tired of me using the remote," Czarnecki joked, "so she said, 'Go out and do something.' "
Irene had read about La Causa, a Milwaukee-based organization serving families in need, and suggested Czarnecki volunteer there.
Having worked in bakeries for several years, Czarnecki said, he knew that unsold bread and pastries were getting trashed. He contacted a friend at Brownberry in Brookfield and began picking up the leftover food and bring it to La Causa.
No strings attached
What started with just a few volunteers picking up leftover baked goods at one bakery outlet has grown to a fleet of more than 100 volunteers gathering an estimated $150,000 in bakery from about 80 sources and delivering it to a network of 700 locations north to Fond du Lac and south to the state border.
Here, Food for the Hungry has brought bread to Brookfield's St. Dominic Parish, Elm Grove's School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Food Pantry of Waukesha County.
As it grew, Food for the Hungry stayed focused on helping the hungry with no strings attached, said the organization's board president, Brookfield resident John Schmitz.
"From the very beginning, we have extended a helping hand to the needy regardless of the color of their skin, the accent of their speech, of their religious faith," Schmitz wrote in a January newsletter.
"Hunger does not discriminate, and neither do we."
Lately, the need for bread has been growing, while the supply is shrinking, Czarnecki said.
"The past year has been challenging," he wrote in a January newsletter. "The needs have become more pressing with the economy, while the amount of product available seems to have diminished as other programs compete for food."
More bakeries needed
Food for the Hungry also benefits the bakeries and businesses that donate their extra bread and baked goods.
Julie Deichmann, manager of Brownberry in Brookfield, said she appreciates knowing her store's extra product is going to nourish the community.
"Without them, it would just be all going to waste," she said. "They've been very helpful."
Additionally, because the volunteers move the bread, Brownberry saves on labor, Deichmann said.
"I really appreciate all their efforts," she said. "If there's a ton of snow out there, they're still out there to come and take the stuff, so it's pretty neat."
Bakeries or grocery stores with extra baked goods can call Food for the Hungry at (414) 771-0715 to arrange a pickup. Donations are tax deductible.
WHAT: all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Food for the Hungry
WHEN: 3 to 8 p.m. April 25
WHERE: Knights of Columbus, 1800 S. 92nd St., West Allis
CONTACT: (414) 771-0715, (262) 784-6591
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