With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping many volunteers at home; Saris mobilized its fleet of e-Cargo bikes and low-risk employee volunteers to help transport large food donations to food pantries.
"What’s happening right now is biblical and historic. We have not seen anything like this in our lifetime and we are going to do our part to address the challenges head on," said Chris Fortune, Saris Co-Founder & CEO. "Right now, it’s really important to give to the people that need it most and make sure our community gets fed as the highest priority. My wife Sara and I are personally contributing where we can, and Saris is also doing their part to serve the community."
On March 15, 2020, more than a week before Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued a "Safer at Home" order, Saris transitioned all non-essential workers to remote work, instituted additional social distancing and safety measures in the essential manufacturing plant and directed employees to find a way to use idle corporate resources for the good of the community.
"Finding a volunteer opportunity took a bit of effort," said Patricia Kapinos, Saris Infrastructure Sales Manager. “We reached out to a number of organizations in the first couple days, basically offering help to anyone who could use it. Once we connected with the United Way of Dane County things moved quickly. The United Way listened to our ideas and goals of using our e-Cargo bike fleet and immediately matched us with the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin (CAC) Gleaners program.”
"Gleaners" volunteers pick up extra food from grocery stores and restaurants, to drop off at food pantries and meal sites, using their personal vehicles. Donations range from a few boxes of bakery to over 500 pounds of food from one donor each daily. The CAC recovers over 800,000 pounds of food annually, distributing it to over 90 food pantries in South Central Wisconsin.
“The majority of my volunteers are over 70, some of them are even in their late 80s and 90s. Some of those folks are also at risk or the people who they live with are at risk and have underlying conditions," said Lindsey Karls, Food Recovery Specialist for CAC. "We do as many as 100 pickup routes a week, food recovery routes a week, and a lot of those are currently not covered."
Kapinos and her coworkers at Saris are helping fill empty shifts of dozens of Gleaners and encouraging others to do the same.
"We have a public health emergency and a lot of the volunteer base in Madison is over the age of 65. And being a younger individual whose low risk and lives alone, it's really up to people like me to start stepping up," said Patricia Kapinos, who ran her first Gleaners volunteer shift on March 24, 2020. After learning about the desperate need for volunteers Saris committed to staffing two volunteer shifts weekly through May, transporting nearly 1,500 pounds of food by e-Cargo Bike each week.
"We're doing this with electric cargo bikes a couple times a week now and partnering with several organizations. United Way matched us with the Community Action Coalition, Canteen Vending, Metcalfe’s, Whole Foods, Pick ‘n Save, the Catholic Multicultural Center, McKee Senior Apartments, St. Vinny’s Food Pantry and many others. I’m grateful to the many dedicated organizations and volunteers that are working tirelessly to provide food to those in need and are proud to be a part of this effort," Fortune said.
Saris is encouraging low-risk people to step-up and help in this crisis. "This type of volunteering is safe, it's easy. It's a beautiful day and you can take a little bit of time and an hour out of your day can really help," Kapinos said.
If you’re not at a heightened risk of complications from COVID-19 and have some extra time, your community can use your help. Consider reaching out to your local United Way or food pantry to volunteer.