Market aims to provide fresh food to Wisconsin Dells students, teach them about compassion

The Vine Street Market will be open for business Tuesday, but it’s a grocery store of a different kind — one that doesn’t cost anything to its customers.

The market, located at Wisconsin Dells High School, serves more than 1,000 students by providing access to fresh produce, meat, dairy and other items donated by the community.

Autumn Giddings, the market’s food coordinator, said it is purposefully not called a food “pantry” because the district is aiming to help all students.

“How do you make things equal for everybody? How do you find equality?” Giddings asked.

The market first opened in November 2018 after the district got a grant from Second Harvest Food Bank. It started out about five years ago as a dream for Holly Waterman, the board president of the local nonprofit Happy Kids Network, and has turned into a way to instill compassion in the students.

“If we could maintain the students’ sense of dignity while they were getting food or getting a service, then that would make a better impact and a bigger impact in their life,” Waterman said.

The market opens Tuesday for the new school year and has been improved with new shelving and a new cooler that will allow staff to double the amount of fruit and vegetables it keeps.

The market, which is open four afternoons a week, is run completely by volunteers — mostly retirees — who form long-lasting relationships with students.

Giddings said the market will go through approximately 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of food a week, showing the students’ large interest.

“Our deliveries come in from Second Harvest Food Bank on Friday mornings, and oftentimes we have student volunteers helping to put food away so that they get first idea of what’s in the market for the next few days that we’re open,” she said.

The high school’s principal, Hugh Gaston, said his students come from a variety of backgrounds and he knows that even if they have access to nutritious food at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean they always take good care of themselves.

“A lot of them don’t have breakfast. A lot of them don’t eat proper lunch, so (this is just) another opportunity for students to grab a snack or grab a little something extra,” Gaston said.

District officials said more than 70 students are homeless.

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