Volunteer Stories

The Dedication of our Leadership Volunteers

by Wyatt Massey

At a time when most of the city is sleeping in, leadership volunteers continue the Gathering’s ministry. Whether it’s team Home Fries, the Bay Leaf Bruisers, HaMM on Rye, or any one of the creatively-named cook and coordinator teams, these individuals provide a much needed service.

Cooks and coordinators are part of the reason the Gathering’s Saturday lunch is able to serve an average of 495 guests weekly at four sites. Every Saturday, volunteer cook teams prepare all of the food for the meal, followed by coordinators who facilitate the serving of the meal. These leadership volunteers go through an application and training process and commit to at least a year, although many end up sticking around a lot longer.

Vergie and Lucy at the Gathering’s Our Next Generation site

Vergie and Lucy at the Gathering’s Our Next Generation site

Vergie Bond, for example, has been a volunteer cook for 27 years at the Gathering’s north side site (Our Next Generation). Along with the King Solomon Cook Team, Vergie prepares meals every fourth Saturday of the month. 

It's about showing that you care about people. There’s such a need,Vergie says.

Lucy Evans, another member of the King Solomon Team, is inspired by the guests she meets each weekend. She enjoys stepping out of the kitchen to see people taking the time to slow down, sit and enjoy a meal together. Guests have even approached Lucy to ask if they could help out with the dishes because the food was so good.

“Those are the special interactions,” she said.

On the other side of the city, at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Jodi Martinez spends her time interacting with guests and volunteers on the serving floor. Jodi is a floor coordinator for the Saturday meal. After the cooking crew leaves for the day, Jodi directs volunteers and makes sure everything runs smoothly.

Bay Leaf Bruisers cook team prepares the meal

Bay Leaf Bruisers cook team prepares the meal

Being on the serving floor is important to Jodi. It is an opportunity to engage and make the site a welcoming place for guests. The same is true for the volunteer environment. Jodi recognizes the importance of making everyone feel part of something greater.

“I love the community.” Jodi said. “Once you get to know the other volunteers, you become a family.”

The idea of the volunteer group as family is found throughout the Gathering's meal sites. At the Gathering’s South Side site, Betsy Fryda, cook team leader for “Home Fries,” has cooked for the Gathering for five years. Her team is made up of workers from the Taste of Home magazine. Each team member is passionate about food, so the Gathering provides a unique opportunity to give back. “To be able to share you love with others is the ultimate volunteer experience,” Betsy said.

Betsy and the Home Fries cook team

Betsy and the Home Fries cook team

Betsy, Jodi, Vergie and Lucy are just four of the 104 leaders who spend their Saturday mornings serving the hungry and homeless. These dedicated leaders donated 3,238 hours valued at $70,524 in fiscal year 2013-2014. Without their commitment, energy and enthusiasm, the Saturday Meal Program would not exist.


Wyatt Massey is a volunteer storyteller for the Gathering. Read more of his work here.

Curtis: Finding the Place the Lord Had Made

by Wyatt Massey

Curtis lending a helping hand in the Gathering kitchen

Curtis lending a helping hand in the Gathering kitchen

The song of blessing Curtis sings before each meal has a special meaning in his own journey from the streets to loving himself. Each morning at the Gathering, before the doors open to meal guests and the room is filled with laughs and conversation, a volunteer is asked to give an opening prayer.

If you are lucky, Curtis will raise his hand and volunteer. He will stand up and, with a voice fueled by faith, sing The Lord Has Made a Place For Me. The song blesses the meal, the volunteers and each guest. Beyond that though, Curtis knows the song has special meaning to his own story.

“When I sing that song,” he says, gesturing to the kitchen and dining area of the Gathering, “This is what I’m talking about. Right here.”

Curtis first came to the Gathering in 1993. He was living on the street, alongside his brother. At the time, the meal program offered a warm place to stay and a meal without questions. It was a consistent refuge compared to life on the street. A time of his life Curtis called “awful,” noting the uncertainty of each night.

“You didn’t know where you were going to lay down,” Curtis said. “Wondering where you were going to go, where you were going to be.”

Curtis lived on the street, on and off, for six years. The longest he stayed without shelter was a year and a half. Despite having a consistent paycheck, a drug habit kept him without decent savings. More than that, Curtis said it was a lack of self-respect that kept him on the streets.

“I didn’t care about myself, but I’m changed now. I’ve got a better understanding of me and I’ve started loving myself again.”

Part of that change included volunteering. After his first meal at the Gathering, Curtis approached Josephine, the program coordinator, and asked if he could volunteer. She told him he could start immediately.

Volunteering also helped Curtis find housing. One morning five years ago, a woman approached Curtis to ask if he needed an apartment. When he told her that he did, she helped him find a place to stay. Curtis said that it was his consistent presence and positive attitude about helping others that showed the woman he was committed to getting better.

That commitment continues today.

Each morning, Curtis washes pots and pans, as well as any other task. Years of service have given him an eye for seeing work that needs to be done. The words of thanks by guests as they leave remind him that “God is here” and that the Lord has provided him with a special place. He encourages others to do their best and trust that they too will find a place where they can thrive.

“If you let your light shine, he’ll find a place for you.”


Wyatt Massey is a volunteer storyteller for the Gathering. Read more of his work here.

Poems by Darnell

Darnell with fellow volunteers

Darnell with fellow volunteers

Darnell has been with the Gathering for over a decade. The past few years, he has been a regular breakfast volunteer. You can see him most days stationed at trash and trays, cleaning up after the meal.

A couple days ago, Darnell shared some poetry with us. He has been working hard on his creative writing and wrote a couple of poems about the Gathering that he was willing to share. 

This first poem is about Darnell's strong faith that he enjoys sharing with others.

God’s Gift
Trust me you don’t have to think twice.
God’s gift to us all was the gift of life.
Yes God is up high above,
And another gift he gave us was love.
And at The Gathering we always give,
And that too is a gift from God, that helps us all live.
With time the way it is it can sometimes be tough,
But with the gift from God you never get enough.
If you really want a peace of mind,
Call on Jesus he’s not hard to find,
God will never in life let you down,
With Jesus in my life freedom I truly found.

Darnell wrote this second poem specifically for the Gathering. It is about what the Gathering means to him (and many others).

The Gathering
The Gathering feeds all that come,
And if you’re hungry, come and get some.
The Gathering helps with all kinds of things,
Oh what a joy on many faces the Gathering brings,
The Gathering helps everyone any way they can.
They don’t give up, united they stand.
The Gathering helps those that are in need,
They help me as much as possible, you’ll be pleased.
The Gathering is one of a kind
They are located on 9 and Wisconsin, not hard to find.
So if in the morning you need something to eat,
Go to the Gathering, their meals can’t be beat.
They give out clothing and medical supplies
So if you’re in need, give ‘em a try.

Thank you Darnell, not only for your skills as a volunteer, but for sharing your creativity and passion with us!

Testimonial from God’s Work Our Hands

One of the most rewarding parts of the work we do is the impact our community has on new volunteers and supporters. Recently we were able to see this impact when Jessica, a leader from the volunteer youth group God’s Work our Hands (GWOH) sent us this e-mail.

“Now that myself, my fellow leaders, and all of the kids are home safely and rested from our weeks in Milwaukee, I wanted to take a moment to personally thank each one of you and your organizations for your hospitality and your willingness to host us as volunteers this summer. There is no way we could have done ‘God’s Work’ with ‘Our Hands’ if it was not for your flexibility, enthusiasm, and hospitality. The kids had such a wonderful time learning about Milwaukee and all the issues that urban centers often face. Myself and the other leaders were constantly in awe of the connections the kids made throughout their week and that was so, so rewarding for us. Though we may have been volunteering to help you all, I think that the experiences we had changed us much more.”

Thanks to Jessica and the GWOH crew for traveling all the way from Georgia to be with us, and for opening themselves up to new experiences. May we all continue to change and develop in community together.

Christmas in July Thanks to Johnson Controls

You’re putting on sunscreen, heading to a local festival, or taking walks outside, so it must be that time of year—Christmas! For the Gathering’s guests at our South Side site, this is completely normal. Thanks to a partnership with Johnson Controls, we have celebrated Christmas in July at the Gathering for over 20 years.

On Saturday, July 26th, 212 guests enjoyed a special Christmas meal of beef roast, fresh potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, and ice cream sundaes with Christmas cookies for dessert. The meal was paid for by Johnson Controls, and prepared and served by JCI employees. To top it off, each guest received a gift bag supplied by JCI employees, and each child was given a treat bag full of wrapped presents and goodies donated by Maureen and Gary Shebesta. Holiday music and decorations added to the festive atmosphere.

Cooks prepare over 150 lbs. of potatoes

Cooks prepare over 150 lbs. of potatoes

The Christmas in July meal requires a special amount of coordination and planning. Becky Lange, who has worked for JCI for 11 years in various accounting and finance roles, took over coordinating the annual Christmas in July meal four years ago. She explains how it all works.

“We have four chefs (two employees - Rick and Pam - and two of Rick’s daughters) that show up at 6:00 a.m. to start cooking 200 lbs of roast beef, 150 lbs of potatoes and a whole lot of green bean casserole! We aim to have at least 25 volunteers to get the room decorated, get cookies put out on trays, assemble goody bags, serve the delicious food, make ice cream sundaes, and do all of the clean up. We also have over 30 volunteers who donate their time and homemade cookies to hand out to the attendees.”

Volunteers decorate and plan before the meal

Volunteers decorate and plan before the meal

For Becky, seeing the guests smile and watching families get involved are two of the highlights of the project. For many, this opportunity to serve the community is rewarding. 

“Personally, I think that we as a company can’t be successful if our communities aren’t successful. We as employees live in these communities and we should have a personal stake in seeing them flourish, which is what Johnson Controls promotes through our Community Involvement Program.”

Johnson Controls serving line

Johnson Controls serving line

Christmas in July is just one example of how a dedicated partnership can inspire creative opportunities. Through monthly dinner volunteering, board service, fundraising, Christmas in July and more, Johnson Controls and its employees truly are committed to being “People in community, feeding the hungry.”

Johnson Controls emphasizes community relations and community involvement, and we at The Gathering benefit immensely from this emphasis. Thank you for everything from jingles and cookies to decorations and dinner prep, and to all, a Merry Christmas (in July)!

The whole Johnson Controls Christmas in July crew

The whole Johnson Controls Christmas in July crew