MADISON — Hidden in plain sight, right out the back door of Walker Loden Ltd in downtown Madison, is a cabinet full of food.
The Food Hut, in the rear of 788 Boston Post Road, is there for residents to contribute or take what is needed. As COVID-19 shutters businesses and is resulting in bare grocery store shelves, Walker Loden Owner Peter Loden said this public service is important.
“Slowly it’s growing more and more and now with the virus that’s affecting all of us, a lot of the food banks, their hours are pared back a little back, if not closed,” he said.
The five shelves in the cabinet were chock full of food on a recent visit. There was rice, baked beans, green beans, canned chili, pork and beans, soup, Ramen noodles, oatmeal, popcorn and cereal.
“I loved the idea of the dignity it affords those who want to remain anonymous about their need,” said The Rev. Shariya Molegoda of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison.
“And I am grateful that it is a venue for others to give what they can anonymously,” she added. “I applaud Peter and Carol for recognizing that even in Madison there is a need for such a 'food oasis' for those experiencing food insecurity.”
Loden has seen, firsthand, how important this popup food pantry is at this particular time.
Recently, in less than 12 hours, between a Friday night and Saturday morning, the cabinet was emptied out.
“It’s totally anonymous,” said employee Carol Brennan, who is assisting Loden with the project.
“So, people do not need to check in anywhere,” she added. “They can come here 24/7, take what they need and leave what they can.”
Loden expanded on this.
“If there’s a need, you take it,” he said. “If you can leave something, you do.”
“We have a list inside of what’s been missing,” he added. “The first couple things that were missing were the Ramen noodles and taco shells and then it’s just been everything.”
Brennan added that pasta sauce, peanut butter and tuna fish have been popular.
“I love it,” the Madison resident said. “It’s just the best thing in the world. It’s just a wonderful experience.”
Loden explained that with food pantries closing their doors he feels he is doing his part.
He quoted Mother Theresa, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing ocean.”
While the duo has no idea who is contributing or reaping the benefits from the cabinet, they are confident they are making a difference.
“You never know how this is going to affect people,” said Loden. “If they can save a little money on the food and that money is probably going to medicine, rent, utilities.
“So, it’s helping them to get over hurdles and that’s what we’re called here to do, in my estimation, in life,” he said. “How can we help one another?”