Since the heavy rains of Aug. 27-28 and Sept. 3-4 that flooded our region in ways that it has never happened before, human and economic recovery have been a focus of the Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) and its project Community Hunger Solutions (CHS) which operates out of the Food Enterprise Center (FEC) in Viroqua. Jeanette Burlingame, CHS program manager, relates how CHS helps provide food and other needed supplies to flood victims.
"It took a while the day after the first storm for me to realize the breadth of the destruction that was suffered by many communities in our area," she said. "As it dawned on me, I began reaching out to different communities and my contacts at food pantries to find out the best way to help. At the same time, others in the area, including Chuck Peterson and others from Organic Valley and the team at Second Harvest of Southwestern Wisconsin, had begun their own work."
"The response was overwhelming," she continued. "Within a few days, Community Hunger Solutions had received several pallets of water, canned goods, and other non-perishables as well as a huge selection of dairy products on several more pallets. Through our combined efforts, and the efforts of others, leaders in affected communities were able to provide food for displaced families and community meal programs in Viola, La Farge, Ontario, Coon Valley, Bloomingdale, Gays Mills, Westby, Cashton, Viroqua, Readstown, Soldiers Grove, and La Crosse."
According to Jeanette, in the weeks following the flood, through donations from Second Harvest Food Bank, Community Hunger Solutions distributed (in addition to regular pantry donations) 1,600 GoMacro bars; three pallets of ready-to-eat pasta and bagels; six pallets of canned vegetables, fruits and chili; 996 pounds of produce; and 200 gallons of water; in addition to160 gallons of milk products and 740 pounds of meat, cheese and butter donated from Organic Valley. She added that "Organic Valley employees also coordinated the donation of three pallets of heavy duty garbage bags and 200 packs of toilet paper."
Another source of help, "fellow FEC tenant Bree Breckel of B&E's Trees spent most of her free time (and even paid B&E's employees) to help clean up and coordinate," she went on. "Bree continues to help by compiling complete and concise information for flood victims on how to get and use the many types of assistance being offered."
Jeanette pointed out that "as communities are recovering, there are two food pantries that are still displaced. Community Hunger Solutions still has some non-perishable items and will be ready to help pantries re-stock when they again have a location. The Food Enterprise Center is integral as a storage area and hub for Community Hunger Solutions to coordinate this distribution.”
She concludes, "In the face of this darkness, I've been heartened by the many people who have come together to help. I'm overjoyed to know so many talented individuals and organizations that use their talents in service to people in need and cannot overstate the importance of Vernon Economic Development Association and the Food Enterprise Center in our community."
Christina Dollhausen on VEDA Board
Christina Dollhausen of rural Viroqua is a new member of the Vernon Economic Development Association Board of Directors. She was elected at our non-profit organization's annual meeting held May 16 in Readstown.
Christina brings to VEDA experience in marketing, event planning, fundraising, and grant writing. Before relocating to our area, she spent over 10 years as the event coordinator for the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton. In that position, she helped the opera house become a significant contributor of economic development for Stoughton and that region.
Locally, she has worked as the capital campaign coordinator for the Viroqua Food Co-op and its current expansion project as well as serving as administrative coordinator to the Co-op Board of Directors. In April, she was contracted by the Vernon County Board of Supervisors to coordinate economic development actions for Vernon County.
In addition, Christina serves on the Driftless Music Festival Board of Directors, is a Wisconsin Roots Music Cooperative Board member, is on the Gays Mills Folk Festival planning committee, and lends her hands and knowledge to various community events and initiatives.
As a new VEDA Board member and a member of VEDA's Marketing Committee, Christina looks forward to helping promote VEDA, its marketing strategy and the Food Enterprise Center’s successes and services to the greater region.
"The idea of a food-based business center was a brilliant idea from the very beginning," she said. "That is why it has and will continue to work so well, especially for Vernon County."
She added, "The national press that VEDA has received because of its innovative approach has been a tremendous asset for the area. For the business owners and employees working in the Food Enterprise Center, they are able to live their dream, be employed and in turn contribute to the economic vitality of the area. I am committed to making Vernon County an even better place to live, work and thrive, both socially and economically."
During much of September and still ongoing, in addition to their other job responsibilities, Christina and VEDA Executive Director Sue Noble have been very involved in the economic recovery of communities in our area that have been impacted by the flood.