Identifying a Need
In 1996, the La Crosse County Health Department conducted a survey to determine the number of households in the county where food did not meet the needs of the family. This survey demonstrated significant gaps in food availability.
The hunger problem in the area was addressed, including the fact that this issue seemed to be well hidden from the public. It was determined there were too few places where the hungry could get meals or food packages. There were occasional food drives – usually during the holidays – but nothing that was coordinated, and the sponsors of these drives were not sure where to send the food once it was collected. A more formal organization was needed: The Hunger Task Force was formed.
Food and Information Exchange
In February, 1998, The Hunger Task Force sponsored its first event with a Food and Nutrition Exchange at the First Congregational Church in La Crosse. Twenty-one organizations came to compare notes and exchange information on what they were doing to combat hunger. This meeting established The Hunger Task Force as a liaison, linking hunger organizations to one another to jointly attempt to eliminate hunger.
Kane Street Community Garden Established
The newly organized Hunger Task Force of La Crosse determined a community garden sounded appealing as the county had recently examined the eating habits of low income individuals and found they did not eat enough fruits and vegetables—partly because of the expense. A garden could not only provide food for those who needed it, but provide the vegetables that were missing from many diets.
The Kane Street Community Garden was established in 1999. Read more about The Kane Street Community Garden.
Food Recovery Program Becomes Major Initiative
In 2000, the idea of preventing safe, wholesome food from going to waste became a concern. A leased truck immediately began picking up food from distributors and other donors to distribute around the community. By 2002, the Food Recovery Program (originally named Three Rivers Harvest) was serving 19 area meal sites and food pantries.
Today, The Hunger Task Force is serving over 118 meal sites, food pantries, youth programs, and outreach sites in La Crosse, Vernon, Trempealeau, Crawford and Monroe Counties in Wisconsin, Houston and Winona Counties in Minnesota, and Allamakee County in Iowa. In 2021, over 1,500,000 pounds of TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), 300,000 pounds of Fresh Produce Boxes, and 2,500,000 pounds of “recovered” food was distributed to these partner programs.