Riverwest Public House Launches COVID-19 Food Pantry

With much uncertainty brooding over many Milwaukee small businesses because of the ongoing pandemic, local music venues have crowdfunded donations from the community in order to support their employees and stay afloat. Riverwest Public House, however, is taking things a bit further – they’ve started a food pantry for those in need.

“There’s a lot of reasons why we wanted to do this,” booking manager Fred Kenyon said. “We had been bouncing around with the idea before we knew everything was gonna close…like when COVID was coming but we didn’t know how bad it would be. We talked about maybe being a pickup point for medical supplies – the idea of using our space to provide for people in need. We have a group where we all talk to each other, and someone had posted an article about a local bar becoming a convenience store. We thought instead of selling things, I suggested a food pantry. We’re not making any money off of it other than putting out a donation jar. In terms of giving back to the community, there’s been times where Public House has been in trouble and has needed patrons to pull together and come out for a benefit or donate to a GoFundMe, so now we’re doing what we can to give back and use our space in the best way possible.”

Kenyon explains that everything happened pretty fast, but that the Public House has been determined to make this a regular thing. Their plan is to do the pantry every Sunday and Monday.

“Brian, who also works at Casa Maria Hospitality House, showed up the day after we decided on this with four hundred pounds of food. The first day, I just sent out a mass text to people I knew, but then we set up a more structured plan for the next two days. We’ve done it twice so far and have more donations coming in, The word got out really fast; a lot of people contacted me…for example, Riverwest Femfest is now offering a donation pickup service, so you can contact them on their page and they will drive to you and retrieve what you’d like to donate. Other people have offered to help make meal kits that we’ll be dropping off, and Sunrise Grocery made a really generous donation – it was a bunch of goods Mike could’ve sold himself but just donated to our cause…that was really wonderful. When things start feeling normal again, I think a lot of us are gonna remember the businesses that helped us and cared about the community. Sunrise are good people.”

The pantry has received a lot of dairy (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc), bread, fresh vegetables, toilet paper, handmade masks, and hand sanitizer. Kenyon discusses how the community has been valuing their work.

“The first day was a little slower – we had maybe ten or fifteen people come by the whole day. The second day we had a lot of people coming through; people were telling their friends and we had some media coverage on the news that morning. I’m hoping to keep that momentum going with both the donations and people coming to get food.”

The Riverwest Public House intends on re-opening as normal once the pandemic is over as the neighborhood bar, safe space, and music venue it has been known as. They are Wisconsin’s only cooperatively-owned bar.

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