Madison Children’s Museum opens pay-what-you-can café

The Madison Children’s Museum is tackling food insecurity among kids, opening a café where families pay only what they can.
Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 5:31 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Madison Children’s Museum is tackling food insecurity among kids, opening a café where families pay only what they can.

“This is great,” Angela Haskin, a museum guest, said. “Eat what you need. Pay what you can.”

Little John’s Lunchbox saw its grand opening Friday with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“Children learn better and play better when they do not have empty stomachs,” Deb Gilpin, president and CEO of the museum, said to visitors.

The café, located near the main entrance of the museum, includes coolers for visitors to take, heat up and check out on their own. The museum partners with nonprofit Little John’s, which supplies chef-made meals from excess ingredients at grocery stores.

“Watching someone go hungry is one of the hardest things I struggle with,” Founder and Chef Dave Heide said. “For me, food is love.”

“Food insecurity in children is through the roof. It’s kind of a silent thing that’s happening all over the country. This is our direct way of getting at changing that without shame,” Gilpin said.

Heide explained why the café is self-serve, saying, “Sometimes that’s a barrier to food access is if you have to tell someone you can only afford a lesser amount. We wanted to make sure that this food was accessible to everyone. We don’t want you to have a barrier.”

The concept is also sparking conversations between adults and children.

“We’ve talked about it a little bit and explained some families don’t have as much opportunity to pay money for meals and have special treats out,” Lenna Stevens said, “And that it’s special that we can pay money and help to fund other families having access to these meals when we come here too.”