Wisconsin Dells High School’s brand-new Vine Street Market opened its doors Sept. 9, giving students a new option to stay healthy.
Opened and operated by the Happy Kids Network, a Dells-based charity that also donates school supplies in the Dells school district, the market has been in the works for the last four years. After a successful opening last November, charity co-founder Holly Waterman is ready to expand the market’s reach and capacity.
“We’ve been thinking about this and working on it for about four years,” Waterman said. “Four years ago, we used to give food to students, and we’ve done that for years. And it was always kind of handed to them in private, or secretive. And what we were finding is that once they got to the older grades, they would tell us they didn’t want it anymore.”
In her work with the charity, Waterman and fellow co-founder Bev Strand have found that as kids get older, they tend to deflect and hide their situation. In Strand’s words, students will often say they need food or other necessities for a neighbor or a friend.
However, in Waterman’s experience, fellow students haven’t judged their peers for needing some extra fruit or protein to make it through the week.
“They say ‘Oh, I don’t need anything,’ we got that a lot in the beginning,” Waterman said. “Well, do you need a new pair of jeans? And they were like ‘Well, yeah.’ Well what if you made dinner tonight for mom? That’s roughly 30 bucks, wouldn’t it be nice to have those extra 30 bucks to buy you those jeans?”
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The day of the opening, the entire Dells football team came through the market and picked out snacks before boarding their bus.
According to food coordinator Autumn Giddings, groups like the football team help keep all of the ample amounts of food moving. Through Madison food bank Second Harvest and a new partnership with Kwik Trip in Portage, the Vine Street Market brings in more than 1,000 pounds of food every week. Giddings says that number is necessary.
“(Second Harvest) has been an excellent source of good, nutritious food,” Giddings said. “I’d say 90% of what goes through the market is from the shopping that we do through them … There was approximately 32,000 pounds of food that went through this market. And that didn’t start in September, that was the middle of November.”
Waterman, Strand and Giddings expect to move similar, if not greater numbers this year. Whether they’re helping kids find a meal they wouldn’t otherwise have, providing tampons and pads to young women who wouldn’t otherwise have them or giving students school supplies, the Vine Street Market will continue to provide.
Even after the high school students move on to their new building next fall, the market will expand to there as well. According to Waterman, the market will have a featured space in the new school building, located next to the school store.
“They’ve actually given us space right in the school store,” Waterman said. “We’ve gotten such amazing feedback from students and staff, that when they designed the new school, they put us front and center.”