CASE STUDY: Lighthouse Food Pantry Project

 In Case Study, Insights


A Permanent Place to Serve

Lighthouse Church and Extended Hands Pantry, Inc. partnered with CG Schmidt to build a permanent indoor space for their food pantry. Now, they can better and more efficiently serve the Madison community due to the storage space, refrigeration and shelter from the elements.


  • Project Name: Lighthouse Food Pantry
  • Project Location: 6402 Schroeder Rd. Madison, WI 53711
  • Project Type: Renovation/Addition
  • Project Completion Date: April 2023


  • Storage space
  • Restroom
  • Refrigeration
  • Area for non-food donations
  • Locking door connected to the community room

Project Overview 

Lighthouse is a “multicultural, bilingual community for all,” and lives up to its name as a source of light and guidance in the Madison area.

Its building holds a church, a voucher school and now a food pantry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Extended Hands Pantry, Inc. began running a food pantry out of a trailer in the Lighthouse parking lot. The pantry serves parishioners and the larger Madison community, as well as families from Lighthouse Christian School, 90% of whom qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. Together with CG Schmidt, Lighthouse and Extended Hands built a permanent facility for the food pantry.

Pandemic-Fueled Need for a Pantry

“Twenty years ago, food pantries were considered for emergency use only. That has not been true for a long time,” said Jenny Czerkas, Director of Operations at Extended Hands Pantry, Inc.

As a hub for the Hispanic community of Madison, Lighthouse is a place where people can go if they need help translating forms, paying rent, having enough to eat, or even learning how to parent or budget.

Czerkas and her husband, Andy, are experienced in working with nonprofit organizations and saw a great need for a pantry at Lighthouse during the pandemic.

“Lighthouse works for the community, not only for the church,” said Lead Pastor Marcio Sierra.

“In the Hispanic community, if you were undocumented, you couldn’t apply for unemployment during COVID,” Sierra explained. “These people were without jobs, without unemployment, so they go to churches.”

Czerkas and Extended Hands were soon running a mobile food pantry with an emphasis on culturally relevant foods out of a truck in the Lighthouse parking lot to serve as many people in the community as possible, including students and teachers.

“Twenty years ago, food pantries were considered for emergency use only. That has not been true for a long time.”

– Jenny Czerkas | Director of Operations, Extended Hands Pantry, Inc.

Serving the Community

Lighthouse Christian School began in 2004 and currently serves 350 students from kindergarten through 8th grade. According to Sierra, nearly 90% of students are from low-income families. Student demographics reflect 60% of students are Hispanic and 30% are African-American.

“We’re serving the low-income community of color,” said Sierra.

At the time, pantry hours were during school pick-up to provide easy access for teachers and families of students in need. However, the size of the parking lot created a major issue.

Mitchell Oswald, CG Schmidt Project Manager, explained that the parking lot was simply too small to host so much traffic at the pick-up hour. In addition to the pantry truck occupying part of the small lot, a line of about 120 cars waited to pick up food, while families attempted to pick up students and teachers tried to leave the lot.

“It just got chaotic,” said Oswald.

Since the pantry was outdoor and mobile, and with no way to store extra food, Extended Hands volunteers had no choice but to remain open for that brief window of time — in the rain, snow, hail or hundred-degree temperatures.

Creating a Space

Exposure to the elements hindered the pantry’s ability to serve as efficiently as possible. Lighthouse and Extended Hands took action.

The organizations reached out to Hovde Properties and the Hovde Foundation and connected with CG Schmidt to discuss the potential of a permanent pantry. Fundraising and donor outreach began, and in April 2023, construction was complete.

The permanent pantry space includes refrigerators and freezers, a bathroom, shelving, storage, and an area for non-food donations such as clothes and children’s toys.

“It’s effectively its own structure, the only thing that connects it [to Lighthouse] is a weather barrier and a locked door,” said Oswald.

Czerkas said that Lighthouse wanted to serve the community as a whole, which is why having a separate entrance and bathroom for security purposes was important.

“You can’t have people traipsing in and out of schools anymore,” she said, but in collaboration with CG Schmidt, the space meets everyone’s needs.

The CG Schmidt Commitment

CG Schmidt is committed to building stronger communities and helped Lighthouse and Extended Hands bring their vision to life while navigating any challenges along the way.

“They listened to what we wanted, they were always responsive. It seemed like they were looking out for us,” said Sierra.

CG Schmidt Foreman, Neil Higgins, would walk around during recess to get to know students near onsite, and the team as a whole worked diligently to keep the area safe for children.

“He was a friendly guy and really sharp about the whole process,” said Czerkas. “He really went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure we were being informed of what was going on and aware of any issues that were coming up.”

CG Schmidt hosted multiple food drives to contribute to the pantry and donated a variety of services while engaged with the project.

“We donated our preconstruction services, everything from the first facilities assessment to the start of the project, which was sizable,” said Oswald.

The biggest obstacles the team encountered were cost escalations and delays. Due to the City of Madison permitting issues, there was a delay in the beginning of construction in late December 2022.

“[CG Schmidt] listened to what we wanted, they were always responsive. It seemed like they were looking out for us.”

– Pastor Marcio Sierra | Lead Pastor, Lighthouse Church

Residual supply chain effects from COVID combined with general inflation meant that the project cost increased.

“They didn’t hold the market cost escalations against us, but we did everything we could along the way to minimize the cost and be upfront with them about what was included in our cost,” said Ben Delzer, CG Schmidt Project Manager.

This included finding smaller subcontractors who could bid appropriately, dropping small costs such as landscaping out of the contract that could easily completed by volunteers and donating painting services.

“This building is a blessing to our community and the families that it serves. The dedication and compassion shown by all who are a part of this organization is awe-inspiring.”

– Sarah Dunn | Senior Vice President, CG Schmidt


“We went from pre-bagged and boxed food items in a mobile food pantry outside to allowing clients to select their own food. People come in and choose all of their food, instead of picking up a standard bag of groceries,” said Czerkas.

By building Lighthouse’s pantry addition, CG Schmidt lives out its mission of creating exceptional facilities that improve the lives of others. The addition keeps food pantry volunteers out of the elements, allows longer operational hours, saves space in the parking lot and stores food overnight. Most importantly, it provides community members space and access, to build relationships and to talk to a volunteer if they need a listening ear.

“This building is a blessing to our community and the families that reside in it,” said Sarah Dunn, Senior Vice President of CG Schmidt. “The dedication and compassion shown by all who are a part of this organization is awe-inspiring.”

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