It’s time for businesses to step up to the plate 

For any business that is able, let’s help the community.

Our COVID-19 world continues, and the accompanying challenges are enormous for businesses, for residents, and for our entire community.

Now, more than ever, we need to look to help everyone in our community and do what we can to keep everyone strong, including ourselves.

I’ve taken a step back to look at how both myself and my business can help make a difference locally in Madison over this holiday season. I’ve learned a great deal of the realities of what the pandemic means for our community. Here are three tangible ways to make a difference and some of the causes I am directly supporting. I invite you to join in and help these efforts.

1. Help fight food insecurity

Food insecurity became more pronounced for a larger number of people in our community this year.

Researchers found that nearly 4 in 10 people in our country had too little to eat or difficulty obtaining healthy foods as COVID-19 spread. And the reality is that food insecurity was high in America before the pandemic — with our current environment, the problem has only gotten worse.

Food insecurity can have a severe impact on individuals and families in a variety of ways. People should not have to choose between spending money on food or medicine and medical care, but that choice is now a reality for many. A lack of access to healthy food can mean damage to children’s growth and ability to learn, and right now, food banks and pantries are seeing an increase in demand and are facing challenges to meet our community’s growing needs.

We’re fortunate to have an organization in our community that makes a tremendous difference for countless families in need. For the past 32 years, the Goodman Community Center has organized a Thanksgiving Basket Drive. The drive has become a tradition, with many long-serving staff members, volunteers, and their children returning year after year to coordinate this enormous effort.

This program provides a full Thanksgiving dinner to families in need. And this year, the demand is at an all-time high, so the Goodman Community Center is planning to help 4,000 families — that’s 22,000 Dane County residents (including 10,000 children!). These families are counting on our help to provide a holiday dinner — and this CAN’T be the year we don’t deliver.

Goodman needs help on the ground to help package the food items and get them ready to go to families in need, as well as crucial monetary donations. The need to help our community with food insecurity challenges will extend well beyond the Thanksgiving holiday and into December. Not surprisingly, it will continue into 2021 and beyond. It’s never too early or too late to provide a helping hand to families in need. Find out more here.

2. Support our community’s students and teachers via the FMPS School Supply Fund

As students returned to school this fall, our community faced a challenge unlike anything we’ve encountered before 2020: virtual schooling. And while we have no control over the setting of this school year, we can make a difference for Madison families who may not be able to provide school supplies for their children.

Imagine an elementary school student at school without the crayons and markers needed to create art projects, or a high school student missing the notebooks and pens they use to take notes during class. Some of these students may also run out of supplies during the school year and lack the money needed to replenish them to ensure their learning is as efficient as possible.

The Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools (FMPS) is currently hosting its annual School Supply Fund to provide students with the essential supplies they need to have a productive online learning experience. FMPS’s mission is especially important this year since buying school supplies is not financially feasible for many during these difficult times.

And to be clear — this initiative is a year-round effort. Students’ needs for school supplies start well before the start of the traditional school year and continue through May and June. Then, it’s time to start gathering supplies for the beginning of the next school year.

The School Supply Fund is a cause that we are passionate about at our Madison-based office supplies and office furniture store, EZ Office Products. We believe that all children in this country, regardless of their background, have a right to an excellent and complete public education.

But we also know this story doesn’t end with the need of students. We’ve all heard about teachers reaching into their own pockets to provide much-needed supplies for their classrooms, but this happens much more frequently and to a more considerable extent than you may realize. The School Supply Fund gives educators the ability to focus on teaching and takes away the concern of whether their students will have the supplies they need.

There are many ways businesses and the community can help. EZ Office Products’ role in this initiative is straightforward — we use our connections to purchase commercial-quality products at an excellent price. Then we open up our Madison facility to store and organize the supplies, and facilitate ordering and delivery throughout the school year.

You can help as well. The best way to help is via a monetary donation to the FMPS of any size that is comfortable to you. The average cost of a supply kit for a student is $50, but any amount, big or small, makes a positive difference for our community. All donations go straight toward buying high-quality products for local students.

So far this school year, supplies have been purchased for 2,500 student supply kits. But we’re not stopping there — we aim to assemble a second round of at least another 2,500 kits. To accomplish this, everyone’s help is needed as the need for supplies extends well beyond the start of the school year!

3. Shop local

Here is the third, and perhaps easiest, action that you, your business, and your family can take to make an enormous difference in our community: support our community. Choose the many reasons to shop and buy local in Madison.

We all know local businesses are struggling. If we support each other and shop one another’s businesses whenever possible, we will strengthen our community both now and into the longer term.

Yes, the pandemic makes it easy for us to look to go online and have an item shipped directly to us from Amazon or a similar retailer. But I challenge you to find local businesses that carry what you need and instead buy directly from them. (Hint: A great start is Dane Buy Local.)

If you don’t feel comfortable entering a store or business right now, many companies offer direct delivery to your office or home. Curbside and contactless pickup has also become commonplace and is a fantastic way to support the community and local businesses while staying safe.

Challenge your officemates and family members to join you on this effort: Think local, act local, buy local, support local.

Together, we will continue to stay strong during this pandemic, and importantly, come out stronger on the other side.

Rose Molz is president of EZ Office Products.

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