Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Sherrie Tussler’s Innovative Approach to Fighting Hunger

Head of Hunger Task Force will retire after 26 years on the job.

Sherrie Tussler started in her role in 1997, at a time when Milwaukee was seeing record hunger. ( Photo provided by the Hunger Task Force)

Sherrie Tussler started in her role in 1997, at a time when Milwaukee was seeing record hunger. ( Photo provided by the Hunger Task Force)

Sherrie Tussler has always been passionate about serving others.

For the last 26 years, she’s served the city and state by leading efforts to end hunger in Wisconsin as the CEO of the Hunger Task Force.

Hunger Task Force works to prevent hunger and malnutrition by providing food to people in need today and advocates for policies that will help achieve a hunger free community in the future, according to the organization’s mission statement.

Tussler, who is retiring in June, said her goal has been the same since she started in her role as CEO: to defend people against hunger.

“We believe no one should have to go to sleep hungry or skip other essential bills in order to eat,” Tussler said. “ We work toward a Wisconsin where they don’t have to.”

The fight for food access must continue

While she has been able to help eliminate barriers to food for many, Tussler working toward a Wisconsin where no one is hungry is a fight that must continue.

After she retires, Tussler will step into a part-time role as CEO Emeritus and will provide strategic guidance on an as-needed basis for up to one year.

Matt King, who currently serves as the associate director of the Hunger Task Force, will move into her position.

“I’ve been saying to Matt that we’re driving down the road at 60 miles an hour, and I’m holding on to the steering wheel. And now we have to switch seats without reducing or increasing speed or changing any lanes,” Tussler said.

A nontraditional approach from the start

Jon Janowski worked with Tussler for 12 years at the Hunger Task Force and was a part of the committee that hired her. He said her approach was nontraditional from the start.

“I still remember her interview because at one point she kind of put her knees up to the table like how someone might sit at home,” he said. “Everything from her body language to her the way she answered questions was saying ‘I don’t care what you ask me, I’ll have an answer and you’ll like it.”

Janowski recalled that when Tussler came into her role, she immediately worked on revamping the organization’s advocacy arm that had been neglected.

“Traditional non-profit boundaries were never an answer for her because she thinks big,” he said.

Janowski said Tussler has never been afraid to challenge the status quo.

“Doing something the way it’s always been done was never the answer for Sherrie,” he said.

A community-focused approach

Tussler believes in spending time in the community with the people the Hunger Task Force serves.

“You don’t know it if you haven’t seen it,” she said.

She often visits food pantries, shelters and organizations they serve to gain firsthand understanding of what community members see. She encourages her staff to do the same.

“Staff are not going to know, you know, what it’s like to go into the welfare office until you walk into that place,” she said.

“It’s important to just hang out with people and listen to all to know what their experiences are, because you can’t talk about any of it without feeling it.”

Tussler said she’s been grateful to be able to give a voice to people whose voices aren’t normally heard.

Tackling welfare reform

She came to the Hunger Task Force in 1997 from Hope House,  a shelter for families facing homelessness.

According to a LA Times article, thousands of Milwaukeeans had lost their general assistance checks a few years prior and the welfare system was crumbling.

Many Milwaukeeans were hungry, so Tussler’s first campaign at the Hunger Task Force was welfare reform.

“Food Stamps are a federal entitlement,” she said. “And our goal was to ensure that people who are entitled to that program are getting it, because it’s the number one defense against hunger,” she said. “It’s the largest federal nutrition program that the government operates.”

Over the years Tussler held on to that belief.

“It’s a trap to get into feeding more and more people (through food banks) and convincing yourself that somehow food banks or other charities can end hunger,” she said.

Lessons learned

Tussler said she’s learned some things along the way.

She said when COVD-19  hit, the agency learned that all pantries could close,“if we just gave everyone an adequate amount of Foodshare.”

FoodShare is Wisconsin’s name for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and historically referred to as “food stamps.”

Tussler learned to say yes when opportunities arose. One example is the purchase of a farm in 2006.

The Hunger Task Force Farm is a 208-acre farm in the suburb of Franklin, Wisconsin. It was initially the Milwaukee County House of Corrections  Work Farm.

“In 2006, the Journal Sentinel called and said, the superintendent said he’s going to give you the farm, will you take it? And it wasn’t exactly what I had planned. And I’m not a farmer,” Tussler said. “But I said yes, because it seemed like an amazing opportunity. And we’ve been farming since 2006. We grow half a million pounds of produce.”

Once she has officially left her job in June, Tussler said she plans to resume her hobby of rehabbing homes.

“I own power tools and I know how to use them,” she said.

Working for the task force has reinforced Tussler’s belief that the quality of people’s lives would improve if more Milwaukeans joined the fight to end hunger.

“One (out of) four of us doesn’t have enough food on the table,” she said. “People could realize that and then they could share what they have. It feels good. It helps. It’ll make you a better person.”

Hunger Task Force’s Sherrie Tussler’s nontraditional approach to fighting hunger was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

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3 thoughts on “Sherrie Tussler’s Innovative Approach to Fighting Hunger”

  1. says:

    Sherri is a true community hero. She has transformed HTF. Enjoy your retirement!

  2. blurondo says:

    You are an example and an inspiration for all. Thank you for your outstanding career.

  3. gerrybroderick says:

    Sherrie, Your contributions to the good of our community were profound. It was always good to work with you. . Best Always!

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