In his five years of running The River food pantry in Madison, Andy Czerkas has never cared much for awards, honors, or recognitions for the countless hours he volunteers. What he does care about is making sure the pantry shelves remain fully stocked so the thousands of folks who file through every week don’t have to go home with nothing to eat. And it takes resources to make that happen.
See Also: Vote Today for Your Favorite Hunger Hero
That’s why Czerkas is so interested in being one of five finalists for an AARP Foundation honor called the Hunger Hero Award. Czerkas is a master at stretching a dollar, and said he could turn the $15,000 prize money that goes with the award into $150,000 worth of food for the pantry.
“Through partnerships with organizations like Second Harvest we are able to buy much of our food significantly below wholesale. For every $10 we spend, we can supply the pantry with $100 worth of food,” said Czerkas, who runs the pantry with his wife Jenny and many volunteers. The AARP honor which includes a trip to Washington, D.C. and a feature story in AARP The Magazine is nice, but it’s the award money that will really make a huge difference for the pantry.”
Led by his conviction to bring help to the poor, Czerkas began volunteering at a low-income housing development in 2000. After getting to know the residents over the next six years, what became clear to Czerkas was that these friends had a desperate need for food assistance. He rented a warehouse and opened The River food pantry in 2006. Since then he has worked tirelessly to feed the poor and hungry.
“We feed between 500 and 600 families every week, which is about 2,400 families a month,” he said. “We go through about 25,000 pounds of food per week, which helps many people just get by.”
Czerkas and Jenny never stop working – whether it’s ordering food, unloading trucks, stocking shelves, scheduling volunteers, or even preparing and serving hot meals. Another 10 volunteers help out on a regular basis, and many more pitch in with an hour here or there when they can. “We recorded 32,000 volunteer hours last year alone,” he said.
The need for food never stops, and is not limited to age, race, gender or demographic. Czerkas said he is always on the lookout for new ways to reach more groups in need. “We need people to shop and deliver food to the homebound,” he said. “We are in a good location on Madison’s north side for seniors, with several senior housing locations in close proximity. But many of these people have no way to come in and pick up the food they need.”
Voting has begun across the country for the Hunger Hero Award. People can vote for any of the five finalizes one time per day between now and Sept. 24. You must provide your email each time you vote.