Every day I meet people, unassuming and modest, who impress me with the good deeds they do. I want to hug them, I want to thank them and I want to share their story.
I met Madeline Williams at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore, MD. She works as a vendor analyst for Specialty Food Distribution Co. based in Eau Claire, WI. Her client, a vendor from Ecuador was there introducing their veggie chips to the US market. At the end of the day, Madeline had three huge bags of various food products she had collected from the show.
I couldn’t help but wonder what she planned to do with all that food?
“I give it to the homeless in Madison, WI,” she said.
It turns out Madeline, 24, is a recent graduate of the School of Economics at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. She’s been in the industry for nine months. She got the job when the company owner called the school looking for someone who graduated from his alma mater.
“At first I went crazy at all the food shows. Here I was fresh out of college, and no money, so I just accumulated all this food. Everything we distribute is non-perishable. My closets were full. There was no way I could eat all of it.”
At about the same time Madeline was hoarding food, she heard that her neighbors had just taken custody of their grandkids with no advance warning. Knowing she couldn’t help out with children’s clothes or toys, Madeline came to the rescue with food.
“The grandma started crying on the spot when I handed her bags and bags of food. It was at that time I realized I could help other people.”
Specialty Food Distribution CO. carries over 1000 different non-perishable products and distributes them to small businesses across the country. The FDA requires all manufactures to put a date on food. Some products, based on their ingredients, are actually fine up to a year after their expiration date. Once a product has expired, it is removed from the grocery store shelves.
Employees, such as Madeline, are allowed to purchase damaged goods at a very low price from the company warehouse. “I buy tons of damaged food. If a box is broken or a can dented, they don’t know what to do with it. I get it really cheap, like $.25 for a good quality protein bar.”
Madeline grew up in Sun Prairie, WI, a town not far from the state capital. “One night, before I started doing this, I was with my parents. We were driving down the street and I saw this long line of people. It looked like they were all waiting for the new iPhone to come out. As we got closer, I realized those people were homeless and they were packing up for the night.”
Shortly after that incident, Madeline decided to make a difference.
Today, from home she fills small bags with five or six items such as canned veggies, peanut butter, organic coconut oil or pretzels. Packed and loaded into the trunk of her car, she drives to Madison. Sometimes she uses her mother’s red wagon or she walks the street with large shopping bags filled with her small bags and hands them out to the homeless and people in need on the streets in Madison.
“Maybe one day I’ll get food vendors to participate in a formal program. For now, I’m just out of college and getting a grasp on real life.”