A donation from the Tomah Memorial Hospital Foundation will help area residents learn how to obtain benefits from a food program aimed at ending hunger. Officials from the philanthropic arm of Tomah Memorial Hospital donated $5,000 to the Second Harvest Foodbank’s FoodShare program Nov. 3.

“It’s awesome for us to receive this,” Second Harvest FoodShare outreach specialist Brian Larson said of the foundation’s donation. “We’ll be able to do more outreach and create more awareness in the Tomah and Monroe County area about FoodShare.”

Formerly known as food stamps, Larson said FoodShare Wisconsin allows eligible residents to receive a QUEST card, which is a debit-like card loaded with a person’s FoodShare benefits that can be used at most grocery stores and many farmers markets.

Larson said there is a ‘triple win” when people participate in the program.

“Obviously the family that receives the card is going to receive benefits to stretch their budget and get more food for their plates,” he said. “There’s also less of a push on food pantries since people are able to use the money in the stores, and it also generates economic activity in the community.”

From July 2016 to June 2017, Second Harvest assisted with 88 FoodShare Wisconsin applications in Monroe County, including 32 in Tomah, which generated $131,839 in benefits for residents struggling with hunger to purchase food, while adding $235,992 in economic impact in Monroe County. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that every $5 spent in FoodShare benefits generates nearly $9 in local economic activity.

“It really speaks to the heart of what the foundation is all about,” foundation board secretary Kate Schanhofer said of the organization’s support. “Food insecurity affects so many people throughout our community, and it’s through the generosity of our own community that the foundation is able to raise money and then it’s the foundation’s goal to give that money right back to the community and reinvest that in the people that live here.”

Under the program, the USDA will double the foundation’s $5,000 donation to $10,000.

FoodShare outreach accounts for 16 percent of total meals distributed annually in the organization’s 16-county service area, including Adams, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Juneau, Lafayette, Monroe, Richland, Rock, Sauk and Vernon.

Second Harvest hopes to submit 3,965 applications this fiscal year thereby generating nearly 2.3 million meals.

“The FoodShare program follows the economy very closely,” said Larson. “If there’s a downturn in the economy, FoodShare program participation will increase and if there’s an upturn in the economy participation might decrease, but there’s always a need out there.”

The FoodShare outreach program was launched in June 2009 and is promoted through a volunteer-staffed, toll-free help line (1-877-FOOD-635 and 1-855-FOOD-635). Callers are screened for eligibility and encouraged to apply for FoodShare benefits if deemed potentially eligible. They are then referred to sites throughout the Foodbank’s service area to receive free one-on-one application assistance from FoodShare outreach specialists.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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