Food drives creating lasting bonds for Waukesha neighborhoods
Pantry appreciative of subdivisions' efforts
Neighborhood food drives in Waukesha are growing.
One entering its 12th year will be held next week on the city's northwest side. One on the south side held its first event a couple weeks ago.
Both have a common goal — to help the Food Pantry of Waukesha County.
"It's truly amazing that the neighborhoods are pulling together like this," said Karen Tredwell, executive director of the food pantry. "Quite frankly, it's incredible to know that another (neighborhood) had the initiative to start one. It's really going to help us out a lot."
For Stephanie Hubbard and her young family, they simply wanted to find a way to help those in need this holiday season.
Not only did they accomplish their goal, Hubbard got most of their subdivision to participate.
"It's something that our family has really wanted to do, but our kids are too young to go out and volunteer on their own so we thought about different ideas," Hubbard said. "So Eli (her 8-year-old son) and I thought about organizing a food drive in the neighborhood."
Along with others, Hubbard and her children collected 670 pounds of food for the food pantry on a chilly November morning.
"We got a great response," Hubbard said. "I was really impressed. Eli said he expected for each house to donate maybe a can, and to see his face when I told him the total weight of food collected was really neat."
She wasn't necessarily surprised by this response because it's a "close-knit" neighborhood. But she added that it shows the impact that can be made in a short amount of time.
Hubbard presented the idea to a few neighbors earlier in the week and by Saturday they were walking and driving up and down the subdivision collecting food.
Hubbard got help from neighbor Tera Popchock in organizing the event and getting the word out through email and social media. The families also made signs at each entrance to the neighborhood. Alderman Aaron Perry, who lives in the subdivision, also participated.
Tredwell said Perry has previously volunteered at the food pantry.
"He did this long before he became an alderman," Tredwell said. "And he got his wife volunteering here through her employment."
Teaching her kids
But having her children participate allowed Hubbard to provide a teaching moment.
"It made an impact on the kids to see how much food we could collect," Hubbard said. "We included a lot of kids and a few more families wanted to participate but were out of town."
She's planning on the food drive becoming an annual event the weekend before Thanksgiving.
"We're really hoping to build off this year and let people know well before time if more want to reach out," Hubbard said.
If Hubbard and others in her subdivision want to learn how to continue making it a success, they should talk to Dave Rebro or Shannon Majewski.
The two, along with many others in multiple subdivisions, are getting ready to hold their 12th annual food drive called "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" from noon to 2:30 p.m. Dec. 14.
Through the years, their effort has raised $27,461 and more than 32 tons of food.
"Just stay true to the reason that you're doing it," said Majewski, when asked what advice she would give to neighborhoods looking to model their effort. "We just really wanted to make this about helping other people in the community."
The food drive started after the Majewskis and Rebros and about five other families got together following the Waukesha Christmas Parade in 2001.
"We just said we are really blessed, we should do something to give back," said Majewski, who serves as the organization's volunteer and group director.
They gave back that year by giving a combined monetary donation to the food pantry. When the families dropped the donation off at the food pantry, they couldn't believe their eyes.
"We took our kids with us for them to see the pantry in person but I think it made a bigger impact on the adults when we saw how many people were waiting in line and in the parking lot," Majewski said.
The neighbors then decided to create something bigger by starting a food drive that includes the Rolling Ridge, Rolling Ridge South, Meadowbrook Heights, Evansdale, Tall Grass, Turnberry Reserve and Oak Springs South subdivisions.
There are now 135 volunteers across these areas with a core group of about 30 families.
"We were a small group of families and that group is now four times as many families," Majewski said. "We take it year by year but it does get easier planning it after you get a system going."
After the food is collected, it's then dropped off at the Jacobson house, the headquarters for the day.
Making it personal
All of the donations are then boxed up and sent to the pantry.
"People who haven't been to the pantry want to go and those who have been there want to go back because Karen (Tredwell) year after year gives us a tour of the pantry," Majewski said. "I think that's another thing that keeps us together. We get to see the needs and meet with Karen and see how the needs have changed from this year to the next. It makes it much more personal."
Tredwell is thankful for the support of Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
"I just think what they're doing is quite a testament to their willingness to share their resources while strengthening their own friendships and relationships," said Tredwell, who honored the group last month at a banquet celebrating the pantry's 35th anniversary.
A family tradition
Majewski's two children are growing up with the organization and help out each year, just as many of the other volunteers' kids do. But Majewski is always looking for more volunteers because she knows she won't lead it forever. She hopes, though, it becomes embedded in the tradition of the neighborhood that "someone steps up."
But you won't be able to take the job away from Majewski just yet. She and the others are looking forward to another successful drive, no matter the weather. And before they begin collecting, they'll take a moment to look back on the last 12 years.
"We always take a moment to reflect what it was that drew us to this," Majewski said. "We share that story about the food pantry that first year with the group. It's an opportunity to change a community for the better. It was just one idea that was thrown out there and we jumped at it and ran with it. It shows individuals can make a difference and we've made it a family event where families come back year after year."
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