By Meredith Melland Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published May 11, 2024 at 1:01 PM

When Lewis Hicks went to the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, 1220 W. Vliet St., in March looking for FoodShare services, he found help from an unexpected source: the Hunger Task Force.

Instead of the MilES office, he found the Hunger Task Force’s newest FoodShare Resource Center, which opened in November. 

He discovered the office that used to provide FoodShare assistance in the building, Milwaukee Enrollment Services, or MilES, moved from the Coggs Center to a new location over a year ago. “I was trying to renew my FoodShare benefits,” Hicks said. “I used to always come down here.”

The Hunger Task Force, a food bank and advocacy organization based in West Milwaukee, now operates three FoodShare Resource Centers to address hunger in Milwaukee neighborhoods: the Coggs Center; the Robles Center, 723 W. Historic Mitchell St.; and Alicia’s Place, 4144 N. 56th St., in Midtown Center. 

FoodShare Resource Centers X

The FoodShare Resource Centers are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Fighting hunger with FoodShare

The resource centers help clients with FoodShare, Wisconsin’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps.” 

Applicants who meet requirements get benefits on a debit-like QUEST card to spend on food. 

“The FoodShare program really dwarfs the work of the Hunger Task Force and all of the food pantries across Milwaukee County, and it provides that benefit every single month,” said Hunger Task Force CEO Sherrie Tussler.

While the Hunger Task Force may provide emergency food to 30,000 to 40,000 people a month, FoodShare serves around 240,000 people in Milwaukee County monthly, Tussler added. 

MilES manages FoodShare program assistance in Milwaukee County for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, or DHS, at two locations: the MiLES Offices, 6055 N. 64th St.., and at United Migrant Opportunity Services, or UMOS, 2701 S. Chase Ave. 

However, as state offices have closed or relocated over the years, Tussler said the Hunger Task Force’s job is “to monitor access to the program and to advocate for improved access and to sometimes knock down the barriers.” 

About the neighborhood locations

The Hunger Task Force opened the Robles FoodShare Resource Center on Historic Mitchell Street in collaboration with DHS in 2010 after the original Robles Center that handled FoodShare cases closed, Tussler said. 

The location, which served 863 people in February, primarily serves Hispanic and Spanish-speaking clients, according to Allen Castillo, Hunger Task Force’s FoodShare program manager.

“We get a lot of the refugee populations over there because a lot of their housing placements are on the South Side,” he said. 

The Hunger Task Force added Alicia’s Place in the Midtown Center in the Capitol Heights neighborhood in 2021, naming it after Alicia Williams, a former FoodShare assistant known in the North Side community. 

Alicia's PlaceX

Castillo said Black and Asian populations and a wide variety of age groups commonly use Alicia’s Place, which saw 312 people in February.

The Coggs FoodShare Resource Center in King Park worked with 159 clients in February, according to the Hunger Task Force. 

How do FoodShare Resource Centers work?

The centers are designed with a self-service model: People can use the desks, computers, phones and printers at no cost, and FoodShare advocates are on hand if needed. 

“The advocate’s job is really to educate and empower people to be able to sort of take control of the benefits on their own,” Castillo said.

The staff cannot approve applications, but they can help people through an application or renewal process, explain what kind of documentation they may need to submit and help them file for a fair hearing.

They can also help people file to replace spoiled food from power outages or check if they are eligible for expedited benefits. 

Hicks stopped by the Coggs Center to print documentation, which he normally does at the library.

“I have my last five check stubs on my phone and she (the advocate) just had me send it to her phone and we printed it off,” he said. 

Language support

The Hunger Task Force’s 15-member FoodShare advocate team speaks 15 different languages, including Spanish, Hmong, Lao, Burmese, Pashto and Dari.

“We never tell people that they need to get help from one specific person because everybody is able to help them, but getting served by somebody who looks like you and speaks your same language is always going to be our approach, because it just goes into the dignified service piece,” Castillo said. 

The resource centers also use an interpretation service with access to more than 70 languages and create flyers in different languages.

“We want people to ultimately feel comfortable,” Castillo said. 

For more information

Learn more about how to get help accessing (and replacing) FoodShare benefits here.