Geneseo-Atkinson Food Pantry introduces new director

Claudia Loucks
Michael Sigwalt has been named director of the Geneseo-Atkinson Food Pantry; and Nicole Freadhoff is the assistant director.

Michael Sigwalt knew some time ago that he would be involved with Food Justice, and that time has come. Sigwalt recently was named director of the Geneseo-Atkinson Food Pantry.

Nicole Freadhoff will continue in her position as assistant director at the Food Pantry.

Sigwalt said he first became involved with Food Justice “around 2012 when I was on a philanthropic committee for John Deere Parts Distribution in Milan. The committee was looking for some community project for employees to physically participate in. I had explored River Bend Foodbank (RBFB) and they had introduced me to their ‘Mobile Food Pantry (MFP)’. I’d participate in an MFP so I could report back to the committee everything involved in an MFP and how it might engage employees.”

In an MFP, the volunteers work directly with the MFP guests (recipients) in a one-on-one fashion,” Sigwalt explained, and said, “My first job was pulling a wagon, which the guests would load with food. The wagon facilitated getting the food to the guest’s car.”

“That first-time experience was so incredibly moving for me, I just knew I had to continue to be involved with RBFB and issues of Food Justice. I didn’t care if the committee chose the MFP as their activity or not! I was going to be involved in some fashion!”

That initial exposure of working one-on-one with those in need and hearing their stories had an incredible impact on Sigwalt and he said, “It meant so much more than simply putting a box of cereal, or whatever, in a box at the employee entrance. The MFP experience gave a face to the issue of food insecurity.”

He ended up volunteering for RBFB on their MFP’s and in other capacities over the next 10 to 12 years.

His previous experience included working as fiscal manager for Freedom House in Princeton and he said that position gave him direct exposure to nonprofit accounting and administration.

“The combination of the passion for issues of food insecurity and knowledge of non-profit management led me to apply for the Geneseo-Atkinson Food Pantry director position,” Sigwalt said.

When asked about his goals for the local food pantry, Sigwalt said, “If those we serve, our guests, have issues of food insecurity, then it’s a reasonably good assumption our guests have other concerns as well. I would like to create a network of agencies in the area so we would know what agencies provide services, what those services might be, and how we might work together to confront some of the issues the guest may be facing. These concerns could go well beyond food. It could involve rent, or utilities, transportation, or healthcare, or whatever.”

He said, “GAFP does provide help in areas more than just food, but are we necessarily the best agency to provide these services? The issue, to me, is more than just food. How can we provide a holistic service to really tackle the ‘disease’ which led to the food-insecurity (the symptom) in the first place?

“We should always answer these questions:

-What can we do to strengthen our community?

-What can we do to build hope?

-What can we do to truly fight hunger? (This should go beyond just distributing food.)

-What can we do to help our guests become less reliant on our services?”

Sigwalt said the “overriding objective is to try and understand the guest needs, and we will then try to structure ourselves to address those needs in the best way possible.”

Sigwalt was born and raised in Geneseo and graduated from Geneseo High School in 1978 and said he had “the honor of playing on the first two State Champion Football Teams for Geneseo, 1976 and 1977 teams.”

He earned a Bachelor’s Degree with a major in Political Science from Central College, Pella, Iowa, in 1982; a second Bachelor’s Degree with a major in accountancy from Western Illinois University in 1999 and an MBA in Finance form Indiana University in 2005.

“I am ordained deacon for St. Malachy’s Church in Geneseo, a five-year program that was really an educational process,” he said, and added, “I’m currently enrolled in a certificate program through the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, on Sustainable Food and Farming.”

He and his wife, Barbara, who works at the Geneseo Public Library, have two sons, Andrew (Ashley) Sigwalt, Geneseo; and Thomas (Allison) Sigwalt, Edina, MN. The couple has two grandsons.