Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has declared Monday, Oct. 1, as Food For Families Day to kick off the Hunger Task Force’s annual Food For Families campaign, which collects non-perishable food items throughout the holidays for Milwaukee-area families in need.
While the food drive has been a Milwaukee tradition since the 1980s and was the first community-wide food drive in Milwaukee, this year’s Food For Families Day is the first event of its kind.
Hunger Task Force, headquartered in Milwaukee, contacted the mayor’s office with idea behind the jumpstart event.
“He’s our city’s most well-known leader, and we wanted him to actively promote solutions and identify ways that people could help,” said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force.
The Food For Families food drive, which runs through Dec. 31, consists of barrels placed at grocery stores, schools and community organizations where community members can drop off food donations. According to Tussler, the drive originally placed barrels at grocery stores only, but as the drive gained exposure and popularity, schools and companies requested their own barrels to run their own collection initiatives.
Tussler said the drive has become so popular that many companies and schools now hold competitions to gather the most food.
This year’s drive will distribute more than 500 barrels throughout the community.
“They’re everywhere,” Tussler said. “We have more food drive barrels than you can probably find mailboxes these days.”
She expects between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds of food to be collected, which translates to about 300,000 to 500,000 meals. The meals will serve 60 food pantries throughout the greater Milwaukee area and 20 soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Milwaukee County
One of the Hunger Task Force’s specific goals with the drive is to provide food to families for special holiday meals.
“We’d like to make sure that there’s a turkey on every table,” Tussler said. “We’d like to make sure that people are donating healthy foods and fresh food whenever possible.”
According to Tussler, the holidays play a vital role in the drive as the community need for food ramps up in November and December with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“People are more likely to visit a food pantry looking for holiday foods like a turkey or a ham or things that aren’t typically in stock at a food pantry like stuffing or a pie,” Tussler said. “Everyone wants to sit down at a table on Thanksgiving Day and share in what they think is a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Oftentimes if they can’t afford those foods, they’ll turn to a charity.”
Tussler said half the recipients of the food collected are children, which is largely why she appreciates the city’s generosity in donating.
“I think it’s intrinsic to who people in Milwaukee are,” she said. “They like to help. They want to make sure that other people are okay. Milwaukee is a caring community. You can go to other places in the United States and people aren’t as caring or as concerned, but here in Milwaukee people help total strangers and they do it willingly and they don’t need credit for it.”
For individuals interested in helping out with the drive beyond food donations, the Hunger Task Force is seeking volunteers to help sort food collected and is accepting monetary donations online. More information can be found at www.hungertaskforce.org.
Food For Families Day will take place Monday, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. at Hunger Task Force, 201 S. Hawley Court in Milwaukee. Mayor Barrett will make the first non-perishable food donation to the season’s drive.