Food is Free MKE, a community food sharing site located in Sherman park, all started with a stray dog. Emma Toth, creator of Food is Free MKE, found a stray dog and in the process of finding it a home, she landed some media attention alongside her landlords. Her landlord didn’t appreciate the breed of the dog and ripped up her lease, giving her 30 days to find a new place to live.
“I’d say the first night we moved in when it was time to stock the refrigerator it hit me like a ton of bricks how many resources we just lost moving from one area to the next,” said Toth.
When Emma moved from Riverwest to the Sherman Park neighborhood she began investing in a garden. As a result, she was overwhelmed with the abundance of food provided and began to wonder if her neighbors struggled with finding a tomato for taco nights.
“It made me start putting my extra food out on just a little picnic bench,” said Toth. “I spray painted the word ‘Free Garden’ on a wooden bench and stuck it next to the tomatoes and cucumbers.”
This past April, Emma decided to take it one step further and set up a pop-up pantry. She had two cans of chili beans and extra smoke detectors. Things went away quickly, and some neighbors dropped off cash to continue to stock up the panty.
From there, a free garden developed into a food sharing site with a food pantry, harvest sharing shelf and community fridge. Emma said taking that first step gave her an opportunity to start listening to her neighbors.
“What we have learned in listening to our neighbors is that there are some gaps in the distribution chain,” said Toth. “A lot of other pantries are only open at a certain time for people to take food and likewise with donations so what we do in an effort maintaining a 24/7 schedule. People are really encouraged to come by whenever it’s convenient for them.”
Emma said the community has grown where nurses bring medical supplies, mothers bring diapers and vegans bring animal-free alternatives.
“If it was just me it would still be just to cucumbers and tomatoes out there all the time,” said Toth.
The Food is Free MKE sharing site is located on 56th and Townsend Street. The organization plans on bringing a second community fridge to Riverwest.
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