A Sun Prairie group hopes a simple loaf of bread will produce new ways to fight homelessness and poverty in the community.

Sunshine Place, an organization that provides food services, clothing and supplies to impoverished people, is using 1,000 boxes of Pillsbury Quick Bread to encourage sharing during a monthslong campaign that aims to gather public input on how to change circumstances that keep people in poverty.

Instead of asking for more donations of money and personal items, Sunshine Place wants ideas that would combat transportation, food and housing challenges that face as many as 2,400 residents of the northeastern Dane County community.

“It’s a conversation starter. It’s the idea of breaking bread but in a means that even I could do,” said Sunshine Place executive director Peter Curran. “The concept is that you can make dessert for your family tonight and use the Quick Bread, and then sit down and talk about ways to change the circumstances of poverty.”

A 2014 U.S. Census estimate placed Sun Prairie’s population at 31,752 and earned the community the title of Wisconsin’s fastest-growing city. But amid the growth, Curran said he’s seen a rise in use of his organization’s services, which include a food pantry, a weekly community meal, and free bedding, clothing and school supply programs. That’s why he’s looking for ideas to help people get out of poverty.

Whether it’s coming up with busing solutions to get people without transportation access to cheaper groceries, or allowing employers to set aside transportation “flex dollars” that would help poor people save on transportation expenses by using pre-tax dollars, Curran wants to collect as many ideas as possible.

Mayor Paul Esser hopes that the ideas shared during Conversation Week can inform city officials on where the need is the greatest and how they can alleviate those issues.

“Poverty is definitely an issue,” Esser said. “We know there are people paying more on housing than their income allows them to. For example, there are 300 senior households living in the city paying more than they should be for housing. That means they’re not spending the money they need to on medication, transportation and food.”

Esser also mentioned an estimated 1,100 households with children in the area who share the same financial burden as the senior households.

In an effort to help the growing city control its rising poverty, Esser is overseeing a mission to take charge of the issues raised by Conversation Week.

Committees will be formed to address the concerns that are raised throughout the year and then measures will be taken to eradicate the problems starting in 2017.

“We’re working in 2016 to get more engaged in solving poverty. ... Conversation Week will open the window for us”, Esser said.

Quick Bread boxes are being distributed in baskets at several public locations around Sun Prairie, including the library, the senior center and a Starbucks. Several “conversation baskets” are also being passed from person to person throughout the community.

Each Quick Bread comes with an action plan that describes the campaign and encourages people to share ideas at www.conversationweek.com. The brainstorming period formally culminates with Conversation Week, which will begin March 20.

A public forum will be held in April where the public will be invited to analyze and prioritize the ideas, and decide which community organizations are best-suited to address each plan.

“Our community is super generous. Now we’re asking for their brain power,” Curran said.

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