Community Partnerships Increase Awareness of Homeless Families

Western Dairyland Community Action Agency pens this edition of “Communities in Action,” focusing on homelessness in Western Wisconsin. Executive Director Anna Cardarella discusses the homeless shelters they operate and the unique ways in which families are served through community partnerships. Click here to read more about Western Dairyland’s work toward achieving sustainable solutions to homelessness in Western Wisconsin.

Community Partnerships Increase Awareness of Homeless Families

Western Dairyland Community Action Agency operates seven homeless shelters in Buffalo, Eau Claire, Jackson and Trempealeau counties for families with children. Our shelters are single-family units which may be occupied for 31 to 60 days; each shelter is a completely furnished apartment with bedding, furniture, cooking utensils and cleaning supplies donated by the community. Our shelters are located in safe locations, and every effort is made to maintain the privacy of the families staying there. Family members are referred to other Western Dairyland resources and community organizations for additional help.

Our first priority is to provide a safe place to stay for homeless families with children. During their stay, we do everything we can to locate permanent housing and help them on their way to self-sufficiency.

During 2012, Western Dairyland’s homeless shelters provided shelter for 193 people, but turned away 880 due to lack of space. It’s a pattern that has been repeated year after year; there are not enough homeless shelters available in our service area.

Despite this, homelessness continues to be an invisible problem in Western Wisconsin, with many citizens being unaware of its presence and severity. In an attempt to increase awareness, Western Dairyland has been forging community partnerships with local businesses, churches, and community organizations. In addition to increasing awareness, these partnerships are also benefiting our clients in unique ways. Some examples:

  • In May of 2013, a local greenhouse donated a Mother’s Day plant to every mom staying in a Western Dairyland shelter. This small donation brightened the day for seven moms, and the resulting news coverage from television stations and social media outlets highlighted the struggles of homeless families, specifically single parents.
  • Four days before Halloween this year, a local restaurant offered to hold a small fundraiser to buy Halloween costumes for children staying in our homeless shelters. Despite the lateness of the fundraiser, several children were able to get new costumes (exactly the ones they wanted) and were able to join their neighbors and classmates for trick-or-treating. The same restaurant will be holding another fundraiser in late November to spread the word and raise money for our homeless shelters. Social media coverage of both events has reached thousands of community members in Eau Claire County.
  • Each December, local businesses and community groups “adopt” our homeless families for the holidays. Parents and children in our shelters receive gifts, while local businesses make a connection with our clients, learn about Western Dairyland services, and create relationship with our organization that often recur year after year.

While the donations and the time invested in these projects are usually minimal, the impact on our clients is immeasurable. As these stories get told and more community members become involved, the issue of homelessness comes to the forefront—with the goal of sustainable solutions to homelessness in Western Wisconsin.

Anyone wishing for more information should contact Anna Cardarella, Executive Director of Western Dairyland, at

Western Dairyland Equal Opportunity Council logoWestern Dairyland EOC
23122 Whitehall Road
PO Box 125
Independence, WI 54747-0125
Ph. (715) 985-2391 or (800) 782-1063
Fax (715) 985-3239

Indianhead CAA Receives Award Nomination

November 21, 2013 – Ladysmith, WI – WISCAP member agency Indianhead Community Action Agency (ICAA) is nominated for “Opportunities for Success,” for its work as a service provider for Wisconsin Workforce Development and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Click here to read more about the nomination and ICAA’s work in creating job opportunities for those with impairments.

West CAP’s Family Table Program Addresses Healthy Eating for Low-Income Families

Peter Kilde, Executive Director of West CAP, writes this edition of “Communities in Action.” To address the problem of access to healthy foods, the Family Table Program was created to provide activities and curriculum to teach community members to lead healthier lifestyles. Click here to read about how the program is connecting with community members and encouraging long-term change in families’ eating habits.

West CAP’s Family Table Program Addresses Healthy Eating for Low-Income Families

Americans are getter fatter and experiencing a steady increase in chronic diseases. We in Wisconsin are not bucking this trend. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 62.8% of Wisconsinites are overweight and 26.3% are obese. This additional weight can lead to diabetes, heart disease and a number of other adverse health conditions. Unfortunately, people that are lower income are more at risk for being overweight or obese for a number of reasons. One key factor is that high calorie, energy dense foods are often the cheapest but lacking in nutritional value. Think of refined grains, sugar and fat—food businesses have made these items easily accessible and inexpensive.

To address the problem of access to healthy foods, West CAP developed the Family Table Program as a pilot project in 2008. Initial support was provided through a development grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program. Over the past 2 years, Family Table activities have included expanding classes to five counties and development of a standard curriculum with specific nutrition objectives. Families attend a series of classes held once a week. Each week highlights a type of food such soups, salads, stir fry, pizza and sandwiches. Emphasis is placed on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Families learn about buying fruits and vegetables in season, using beans to stretch the protein component of meals, and utilizing local sources of food such as the farmers market or food cooperatives.

The Spott Family is ready to enjoy a healthy taco salad.

The Spott Family is ready to enjoy a healthy taco salad.

Close partnership with local UW-Extension nutrition educators has made the program viable. The nutrition educators are able to deliver nutrition information and West CAP staff then assists the families to cook the evening’s meal and enjoy eating together as a family. In addition to partnering with UW-Extension, the program has benefited from having academic partners through the Wisconsin Partnership Program and Americorp VISTA volunteers. In-kind support from local school districts has allowed the program to use Family and Consumer Science classrooms equipped with multiple kitchens. This has been particularly helpful because it gives each family the opportunity to work together in a kitchen setting to prepare their meals. Parents are often amazed at what their children can accomplish in the kitchen and it provides a great parenting education component to the program.

The Janousek Family chops vegetables.

The Janousek Family chops vegetables.

Since the program began five years ago, 429 people have attended classes—with over 50% being children. At the beginning of the program, only adults attended classes. However, children were added to the mix to encourage long term change in families’ eating habits. We found that it is often the children who “drive the grocery cart.” One dad reported, “Megan (age 11) never ate vegetables until this class. Now she sautés veggies several time a week.” Lillie, a first-grader, said, “I really like to learn how to do stuff in the kitchen without screwing up.”

While Family Table is not the entire answer to the goal of having families eat healthy foods, it has become a strategic part of local attempts by two county level nutrition coalitions to engage community members in healthier lifestyles.

For more information on Family Table, please contact Robyn Thibado at 715-265-4271, ext. 1330 or

Peter Kilde
Executive Director
West CAP

West Central Community Action Agency logo

West Central Community Action Agency
525 Second Street
P.O. Box 308
Glenwood City, WI 54013-0308
Ph. (715) 265-4271
Fax (715) 265-7031