MADISON (WKOW)-- Each month, WKOW recognize people who volunteer in our communities and inspire others to give back.
It's called the Jefferson Award. We honor a husband and wife team who help feed hundreds of people every week. Jenny and Andy Czerkas are January's Jefferson Award recipients.
You can find Jenny Czerkas here at The River Food Pantry on Madison's north side just about every day of the week.
"It's the best job I've ever had," said Jenny Czerkas
Andy, Jenny's husband, is by her side at least 30 hours a week.
Andy is an instructor at MATC. He will retire in a couple of years and join Jenny full time.
Since they started the pantry 5 years ago they've seen the need only grow.
"We anticipated serving 100 a week," said Jenny. "Now we have weeks where we actually serve over 600 families in one week."
"We go through 25,000 pounds of food a week," said Andy.
In November alone, the pantry saw 2,424 families.
"We did not foresee the economy tanking, unemployment jumping, headlines in Madison that said 21.4% poverty rate," said Jenny. "We didn't see any of that coming."
Jenny left her 25-year career in Information Technology to work full time at The River, as it's fondly called. Jenny is technically paid. She brings home a mere $100 a week for the 70 plus hours she puts in.
"This is my life" said Czarkas. "I don't go home from work. Running The River Food Pantry is my life." Czerkas says while smiling. "I love it."
People in need can come to The River for clothes, groceries and on Tuesday and Friday nights; a meal.
"This is one of the food pantries where you can come once a week," said Jenni.
Friday nights around here look more like a block party than people down on their luck. It's that family atmosphere Andy and Jenny wanted to create.
"They know your family, they know your situation," said Jenni Capps. "They're always wonderful. They're welcoming; totally non-judgemental."
Jenni Capps is a single mother who has turned to The River for help putting food on the table.
"We love helping people, but we're trying to create an environment where we feel like more like it's a hand up than just a hand out," said Jenny.
That's why many people who use the pantry will also volunteer or donate when they do have resources.
Jenny and Andy know they couldn't make The River a success without other volunteers.
"We have dozens of wonderful volunteers," said Jenny.
From individuals to couples to student groups, the community donated more than 34,000 hours last year.
"It's a perfect Friday night date," said Jenny. "Have dinner at The River, the food is always good and help people out."