Jesia Choity ’27  |  Published November 22, 2023

Cold Temps, Warm Hearts

Vanessa Wetterling ’96 has spearheaded local Freezing For Food initiative for 23 years.

VANESSA WETTERLING: The 1996 Monmouth graduate, pictured second from left, has played a major role in the town's Freezi... VANESSA WETTERLING: The 1996 Monmouth graduate, pictured second from left, has played a major role in the town's Freezing For Food initiative for the past 23 years.MONMOUTH, Ill. – An idea that started in Iowa has taken roots in Monmouth, and that’s thanks to a Monmouth College graduate with a passion for helping her community.

Vanessa Treat Wetterling ’96 has spearheaded the community’s enormously successful Freezing For Food effort for nearly a quarter century, assisted by an army of volunteers. This year’s Freezing for Food will be Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in downtown Monmouth.


Teaming up for a good cause

“This is our 23rd annual Freezing For Food,” said Wetterling, who is general manager of three Prairie Communications radio stations, including Monmouth’s WRAM-AM and WMOI-FM. “It’s through the radio station, but it’s a community event – that means the police department, the fire department, civic organizations, Monmouth College, the hospital (OSF HealthCare-Holy Family Medical Center). There are tons of people that come out and freeze for food with us.”

Originally, only one person was freezing.

“A colleague of mine started this whole project in Iowa, because of the same reason – their food pantries were in need of food,” said Wetterling. “So he decided to get a UPS brown truck and spent the whole night in that truck for a certain number of days until they reached the goal of food that was needed at the pantry. I was the promotions director for the company, and I loved the idea, the concept.”

Wetterling brought the event to Illinois, and Monmouth and Clinton, Iowa, are now the two longest-running Freezing For Food events in the region.

“The radio station broadcasts the entire event, and that’s how we reach thousands of people who will donate their money or make a contribution of food,” she said.

The process, like the idea itself, is unique. Wetterling and her colleagues stand in the cold for three days collecting money and food. With the cash donations they receive, they then shop for food with the assistance of Darren DeJaynes, the owner of Save A Lot, where the event is held.

“Each year, we have seen growth in our program, and each year, we have also seen an increase in the need for food at our food pantries, so we are actually now supplementing these food pantries twice a year with the help of the community.” – Vanessa Treat Wetterling


“Our goal is to collect thousands and thousands of items for our local food pantries here at Monmouth and in Roseville,” said Wetterling. “Each year, we have seen growth in our program, and each year, we have also seen an increase in the need for food at our food pantries, so we are actually now supplementing these food pantries twice a year with the help of the community.”

The second event, held each June and billed as “Halfway to Freezing For Food,” is exactly the same concept, although volunteers can trade their parkas and gloves for shorts and T-shirts.

“Every year, the food pantries tell me what types of food they need,” said Wetterling. “It’s typically items they can’t get from the food bank. There are certain types that are harder to get. So what we collect is cereal, which is our number one priority, spaghetti sauce with meat, box meals such as lasagna, tomatoes, rice, tuna, canned chicken, canned vegetables, and canned fruits and juice.”

An important concern is working with non-perishable food items, which helps alleviate concerns of food waste, which Wetterling believes is one of the most serious issues confronting America.

“Food waste has always been a problem for America,” she said. “America is fortunate to have enough food for everybody, but the waste is certainly a problem. The issue doesn’t always mean that people are wasteful. Sometimes, it’s simply because food spoils and it’s hard to preserve it long enough to get it to others in time. And then there are other issues such as food allergies or allergies to the preservatives.”


Her Monmouth origin story

Going back to the early 1990s, Wetterling picked Monmouth College because of its women’s basketball team and its culture, despite the fact that the school was a long way from her home. She had to adjust and forge relationships, and she eventually made Monmouth her full-time residence. All in all, she said, Monmouth College shaped her journey, in large part due to the soft skills she learned that are needed every day in her job.

“That just shaped me to meet new people all the time and get them involved in the community. That’s one of the ways that Monmouth shaped me and helped me be able to do what I do for a career.” – Vanessa Wetterling


“I was from Arkansas, so I didn’t know anyone when I came to Monmouth College,” she said. “So the ability to meet people for the first time and create relationships with staff, faculty and friends, and the basketball teams, the soccer team, that just shaped me to meet new people all the time and get them involved in the community. That’s one of the ways that Monmouth shaped me and helped me be able to do what I do for a career.”

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