Badger Prairie Needs Network building

The Badger Prairie Needs Network, 1200 E. Verona Ave.

Badger Prairie Needs Network is once again expanding.

With the help of funding from Dane County, the food pantry and distribution site could break ground to expand its cold food storage capacity by mid-July.

Dane County executive Joe Parisi made the announcement Wednesday, June 24, during a press conference held at BPNN, 1200 E. Verona Ave.

Calling BPNN a “strong partner and major distribution point” for the county, he announced the county will bolster its partnership with it by donating $325,000 toward building additional refrigeration onto its building, which it acquired from the county in 2015.

“As they’ve grown, they’ve experienced needs for additional storage to provide not only to people they do now, but also ever expanding clientele,” Parisi said.

BPNN completed its previous expansion in December 2018. It included a 576-foot warehouse and a 1,000-foot cooler and freezer space on the west side of the building.

The expansion became the linchpin of BPNN’s “Kitchen to Table” program, which “rescues” leftover food from professional kitchens in the area and repackages it into meals that can be picked up at pantries around southcentral Wisconsin.

Karen Dettinger, a member of BPNN’s leadership team and also a retired industrial engineer, is helping to oversee the project.

Dettinger said the expansion will add 1,000 square feet of refrigeration space on top of existing fridges. This increase in storage was going to be at the center of a capital campaign that Badger Prairie Needs Network had intended to kick off earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign never exited its “quiet phase.”

That phase raised around $250,000, BPNN executive director Marcia Kasieta said.

The total construction project cost is estimated to be around $760,000 according to Dettinger. For that reason, BPNN still plans to launch the capital campaign, Kasieta said.

The county’s investment into BPNN to help it become a perishable food storage hub for the region’s food pantry system comes at a crucial time, Kasieta added.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Health Services announced it had changed the eligibility requirements for TEFAP from a threshold of 185% of the Federal Poverty Level up to 300%.

That will create a much larger pool of county residents eligible for emergency food assistance.

The pantry, which typically serves residents of the 53593 zip code and Verona Area School District, responded to the pandemic by expanding its service area to include any household in Dane County that is food insecure or needs food assistance.

Through September 30, everyone in the county will be able to access emergency food assistance at BPNN.

In addition, Kasieta said that the food pantry needs to address its shortage of refrigeration because the continued funding of Second Harvest by the county means large amounts of fresh, perishable foods will regularly be delivered to BPNN over the coming months.

She said pending approval by the BPNN’s board of directors, the building project is expected to start in the next few weeks, and the new cold storage would be up and running in October.

Kasieta said the additional refrigerator space will allow BPNN to serve as a Second Harvest food drop site for the southwest side of the county, saving money on fuel, drivers and time.

“I thank Parisi for all his support for the last five years, and Second Harvest thank you for a long partnership that is alive and well,” Kasieta said. “Next year BPNN marks its 35th year serving Dane County. When faced with need never seen before, we can’t win the battle against hunger locally without collaborating with partners.”

Kasieta said that the pantry has seen a 500% increase in “new households who never in their wildest dreams thought they’d need food assistance.”

She said during the first seven weeks of the pandemic, there was a 130% increase in traffic to the pantry. Kasieta noted this was a huge strain, as a lot of BPNN’s volunteers are older and were asked to stay home for their health and safety.

That led to a 75% reduction of the food bank’s volunteer workforce nearly overnight, Kasieta explained. However, she’s plugged that gap with college students who are living at home while their institutions are closed.

Neal Patten can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.