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Andy Czerkas

The River Food Pantry
Purpose Prize Fellow 2012

Czerkas alleviates hunger and social isolation among low-income residents of Madison, Wisc., by providing free food and services in a welcoming atmosphere.

In 2000, Andy Czerkas and his wife, Jenny, began volunteering in low-income and senior housing complexes in Madison, Wisc., neighborhoods marked by poverty. Czerkas was motivated by religious faith and a sense of service that dated back more than 25 years, when – upon breaking free from alcoholism – he made a commitment to help others.

Czerkas and his wife worked with the neighborhoods to provide free monthly dinners, threw back-to-school parties and organized holiday gift programs. But it wasn’t enough. Families routinely had to choose between paying rent or buying food.

That’s why Czerkas opened The River Food Pantry in 2006 in a rented warehouse to provide free food, clothing, household items and hot meals. Clients shop in the pantry weekly as if in a grocery store. Today the pantry feeds about 600 families a week, distributing 1.3 million pounds of food every year, while providing medical screenings, job search training and other services.

The pantry also fosters a sense of community through a friendly, family-like atmosphere. It’s a place where people facing the same struggles can feel connected. Many opt to volunteer at the pantry.