Photo of Rick Lewandowski, Milwaukee native and UW Oshkosh alum, who oversees 400 volunteers for the Hunger Task Force, delivering and distributing 10,000 boxes of healthy foods to low-income seniors free of charge.

Rick Lewandowski, Milwaukee native and UW Oshkosh alum, oversees 400 volunteers for the Hunger Task Force, helping deliver 10,000 boxes of healthy foods to low-income seniors free of charge.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus and Milwaukee native Rick Lewandowski has spent the last 20 years making sure low-income seniors in his hometown and 32 counties across Wisconsin have access to healthy food.   

A year after graduating in 2003, Lewandowski began working for Hunger Task Force, a free and local food bank in Milwaukee as a delivery driver. Since then, he has worked his way to the organization’s first senior services director. He oversees 400 volunteers and the delivery and distribution of 10,000 Stockboxes–a box of healthy foods that Hunger Task Force delivers to low-income seniors free of charge. Oshkosh became a Stockbox site in November 2023. 

Lewandowski is easily recognized at the Milwaukee Stockbox sites.

“The seniors used to call me ‘grandson,’ but not so much anymore,” he said with a laugh. 

Recently, we caught up with Lewandowski, who shared that he  grew up thinking he’d either be a professional athlete or a sports coach. But thanks to a math instructor and football coach at UW Oshkosh, he believes he landed in his perfect place in life.

When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was college something that you thought about?

I was really into sports, and I was good at it so I thought I was going to play football or I could be a physical education teacher or a coach. My parents didn’t go to college, so I was a first-generation college student. My dad worked at a steel factory, making skylights, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom and volunteering at schools. She did some secretarial work, too. But, yes, college was something they wanted for me, you know, they wanted a better life, better opportunities.

 What made you decide to come to UW Oshkosh? 

I wanted to go to college to play football. I was a defensive tackle. I looked at UW-Whitewater. I looked at some D2 schools too. I like to think I was good enough for D1, but Coach Ron Cardo was the reason I came here. Just from my first visit, you could tell he was such a caring guy—especially for his athletes. He was like a father figure, and he made my parents really comfortable. That helped me to decide to go to UW Oshkosh. It is small enough that you know everyone, but you also meet someone new every day.  

Which classes and college experiences stood out to you and why?

I went in, majoring in PE (physical education). Back in the day, it was called that. I didn’t realize so much science and math was involved in being a physical education teacher, and those classes weren’t my favorite to take. When I got to biology, I kind of knew, OK, this wasn’t for me. I still wanted to work with people and give back to the community. After talking with the counselors, I decided that sociology was a good fit and the rest is history. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that degree, but I knew I just wanted to do something to help people. I had to take a freshman math class and I didn’t do well in it at all. Then I had instructor (John) Van Meter, who made it fun. He interacted with the students and made us get up front and do math on the board. He taught us a totally different way to view math and different ways to figure out math problems. After that class, I had all A’s and B’s in math. I don’t think I would have made it through college without Van Meter. Being a football player under Coach Cardo, I learned never to quit. He told me I probably wouldn’t start because I was a freshman. I was last on the depth chart as I should be, but I didn’t like it. Coming from a high school, where I was a starter and leader, I didn’t like it at all, so I worked at it and ended up starting all four years.   

Has community service been a part of your life growing up?

I grew up in the inner city of Milwaukee and my parents didn’t have much, but they’re always willing to share what they have. Our house has always been a safe place for my friends. It has always been a place where they know they could get a meal and be welcomed. My parents always had an open-door policy. I knew there were kids that didn’t have a way to pay for lunch. So, we’d pack extra sandwiches for them. I grew up seeing the need out there. My parents more or less raised one of my best friends until we got to high school. They really show that it takes a village, you know, and people should work together to help out as much as possible. This is why I love my job. I love working with the seniors. A lot of them worked their entire lives, but now they need help. With Hunger Task Force and the Stockboxes, they don’t have to choose between paying their electric bill or getting food on the table. 

How has your education at UW Oshkosh helped with what you do now?

My education at UW Oshkosh has given me the skill set that I use every day. I learned the value of leadership and passion and got the drive to never give up.   

Learn more:

Study sociology at UWO 

Hunger Task Force 

Written by Grace Lim

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