Reaching Farther

by | Nov 1, 2023 | 0 comments

  • DaMontae January
  • Skye Gia Garcia

Once a week, Annmarie Preece, a long-time volunteer at OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center, stops by the River Food Pantry on her way to her front desk volunteer shift. Annmarie loads up the trunk of her car with all manner of foods like pasta, rice, and canned goods and personal care supplies like soap, laundry detergent, and socks to help fill OutReach’s Community Pantry.

OutReach’s partnership with the River Food Pantry started in November 2021 with a pantry that fit into two cabinets by the front door to our main office and has since expanded to an entire kitchen with multiple shelving units, a refrigerator, and a standing freezer. Each week, the River sends over enough non-perishable foods and personal care items to keep our Community Pantry well stocked for anyone who drops in to use it. The River also supports our annual events by donating snacks and goods for our Trans Care Package Program, Trans Joy Event, and the Magic Pride Festival.

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As the cost of food and household goods has risen, use of the Community Pantry has also increased, and we’ve been fortunate to have had numerous churches, local businesses, and community groups also donate food and personal care essentials to the Pantry.

One of the things that sets OutReach’s Community Pantry apart from others is how deliberately low-barrier we’ve kept it. Many of the folks who work here have relied on food assistance programs before, and we understand that having to show things like a driver’s license or state ID can create an additional barrier for some folks, especially trans folks whose documents may not show the correct name or gender. Our Community Pantry is, and will remain, no-questions asked, come as often as you need, and always open during our regular business hours (12:00–7:00pm, Monday–Friday). Reducing the barriers that keep people in the LGBTQ+ community from accessing food, housing, and other supportive services has always been a part of OutReach’s mission, and the Community Pantry is part of that.

The expansion of OutReach’s Community Pantry has coincided both with our growth as an organization and with growth in the needs of our community. Dane County’s LGBTQ+ community has to contend with some of the fastest rising housing costs in the country on top of rising food costs, and these things impact people in the LGBTQ+ community differently based on the intersections of other identities like race, age, ability, education, and others. With new programs focused on harm reduction and housing, we’re helping folks in our community meet their basic needs and build connections to a broader community of resources and support.

A significant award 

In 2022, OutReach was awarded a portion of the opioid settlement dollars that came to Dane County via a federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies who manufactured opioids. Through this funding, OutReach has been able to expand our support services for people who use alcohol and other drugs by creating a harm reduction team focused on peer support, community outreach, and education.

Harm reduction is an inherently queer approach to substance use that arose from programs like needle exchanges created to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. Our harm reduction program aims to provide support for people who use alcohol and other drugs without judgment and with the understanding that there are many ways to build healthier relationships with alcohol and other drugs. Tarah Stangler, the lead staff person of the harm reduction team, views the goals of OutReach’s harm reduction programming as “closing gaps and overcoming barriers to care for queer people who use drugs so that they have access to holistic and affirming care.”

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Tarah, Linda Lenzke, and Kaeden Watford make up OutReach’s harm reduction team and work within the Queer Care Collective (formerly the Pride in Prevention Coalition) to ensure that community members and local organizations have access to harm reduction education and supplies. Our team assembles and distributes safer sex kits (including condoms, lube, or other items), safer drug use kits, wound care and first aid kits, safer smoking kits, and overdose response kits. Team members also lead Narcan (Naloxone) trainings for organizations who would like to have staff on hand that can safely respond to overdoses, and they facilitate harm reduction and recovery meetings weekly.

Also in 2022, OutReach became a partner in the City of Madison’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP). Led by the Dane County Youth Action Board (YAB), the YHDP is a youth-driven project aimed at reducing the number of young adults (aged 17.5–24) experiencing homelessness in Madison and Dane County. OutReach’s goal in partnering with the YAB and other local organizations is to ensure that young adults experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness, a large portion of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community, have access to the care and resources they need.

Adding new faces 

Through the YHDP, we have added two new staff positions filled by DaMontae January and Skye Gia Garcia. DaMontae and Skye Gia focus on helping young adults navigate the housing system while building life skills and connecting with the supportive services that exist at OutReach and in our greater community.

While implementing a project of this scale has not been without challenges, OutReach’s staff began enrolling young adults into the housing program in September. Since, they have been busy with everything from helping people find apartments and connect with housing programs to shopping for clothing and groceries with program participants.

OutReach’s harm reduction and young adult housing programs complement our existing work with Willma’s Fund, which has been a lifeline for many in Dane County’s LGBTQ+ community experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness since 2011. Willma’s Fund, like our other services, dramatically expanded both during and following the Covid-19 public health emergency.

Increased demand for services 

Since 2020, the amount of assistance given out through Willma’s Fund has grown by 500%. In 2022 alone, OutReach staff provided financial assistance to 110 people and gave out approximately $50,000 in grants to individuals to pay for things like rent, security deposits, short-term hotel stays, and utilities. Demand for Willma’s Fund has only increased in 2023, to the extent that in several months OutReach exceeded our monthly budget for assistance within a matter of days. Willma’s Fund has now provided over $300,000 in assistance to more than 500 people.

Some of our long-running programs are also more active than ever. The LGBTQ 50+ Alliance, a joint program of OutReach and the Madison Senior Center, continues to host events for LGBTQ+ elders and build connections with national organizations like SAGE and AARP.

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OutReach’s Elder Advocate, Kristi, is working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to create supportive services for LGBTQ+ elders with memory loss and their caregivers, a program that will be starting in 2024. Recently, the LGBTQ 50+ Alliance has co-hosted intergenerational dinners and celebrations with the Madison Area Transgender Association (MATA), further building connections among folks in the LGBTQ+ community.

OutReach’s Transgender Advocate, Gabriel Loredo, has also been working to expand OutReach’s financial and material support programs for transgender, non-binary, and gender expansive folks. Gabriel put together OutReach’s Trans Closet, stocked with donated chest binders and other gender affirming clothing, and has been administering grants covering the cost of legal name changes and document updates for trans folks. We’re also incredibly excited to be partnering with OPEN Foundation on additional services for transgender folks that will be available in 2024.

OutReach’s recent expansion of services would not be possible without the incredibly motivated and hardworking people who have joined our staff within the last year and half, alongside those who have served the organization for years or decades. Our program staff is working with more community members and finding new ways to engage with and support folks than ever before. We also have a wonderful complement of volunteers leading groups, working at our front desk, helping out around the community center, and many, many other things.

Sustainable growth is always a challenge, but we have been able to accomplish great things this year, and we’re all looking forward to what 2024 will bring.

OutReach Programs & Contact Information

Elder Services: For LGBTQ+ adults over age 50 looking for social and educational events, help finding safe and affirming housing, and peer connections. Contact Kristi M. at [email protected].

Transgender Services: For transgender and nonbinary people looking for connections to community, help navigating health care and legal processes, and low or no-cost gender affirming clothing items. Contact Gabriel Loredo, [email protected].

Young Adult Housing Program: For young adults (age 17.5–24) who need help finding and/or paying for housing, building life skills, and connecting with community supports. Contact DaMontae January at [email protected].

Harm Reduction and Recovery Services: Information and training about safer drug use including how to administer Narcan/Naloxone, distribution of safer drug use and safer sex kits, peer support and LGBTQ+-affirming recovery meetings. For education, kits, and recovery meeting information contact Tarah Stangler at [email protected].

Willma’s Fund: Emergency, short-term financial assistance for LGBTQ+ adults in Dane County. For more information, call OutReach or email A.J. at [email protected].


A.J. Hardie is Program Director at OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center. A.J. was born and raised in Charlotte, NC but has called Madison home for more than 10 years. They hold a PhD from UW-Madison and are passionate about nature and conservation in addition to their LGBTQ+ advocacy work.

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