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.

Craig: Humility and Hard Work

When asked to do an interview, Craig Burrow was hesitant. He is not the kind of person who seeks out the spotlight and he is not “much of a talker.” Craig’s humility, combined with his work ethic, contributes to his amazing volunteer skills. Every Monday through Friday at the Gathering’s breakfast program, Craig can be seen cooking, chatting, laughing and washing dishes in the kitchen.

Craig explained that he got involved with the Gathering through community service. This September will mark Craig’s two year anniversary volunteering with the breakfast program. Craig prefers to spend his time in the kitchen, behind the scenes. He explained, “George is a way cool guy, and being around Cary? It’s fun. He’s a joker. I like to do my thing and watch everybody.”

Craig admires and respects the Gathering staff and volunteers and has become a valuable part of the morning meal. Deacon Ned, a long term volunteer and supporter of the Gathering has also been somewhat of an inspiration to Craig: “I look forward to whenever the Deacon is here. I look forward to his prayers.”

Craig has dealt with homelessness before, but is currently sharing an apartment with a friend. His friend pays a reduced rent and Craig prepares all of their meals as his share of the rent. Since his roommate is not a good cook, the skills Craig cultivated at the Gathering really pay off.

Through connections at the Gathering, Craig has also been able to secure some employment opportunities. He hopes to gain full time work and find his own place. 

“That’s why it’s important to stick around here—‘cause of the connections. That’s what’s important to me—getting my own place  That’s all I ever wanted.”

Craig’s calm spirit, get-the-job-done-attitude, smile, and commitment makes the Gathering’s breakfast program a little better. We hope the connections made can pay him back for all he does for others.

People that make The Gathering: Cary Gibson

by Laura Luttrell

"I'm blessed with what I've got now. I thank God everyday. I mean when you're out there and then this! I feel like I’m living a movie star life – I’ve got heat, I’ve got a TV - I watched the Packers yesterday. I have food in my fridge. Everything I would want. You're real grateful, am I right?"

Imagine yourself without a home for 20 days. You’ve exhausted your options of staying with family and friends and now you are living on the street. I’ve tried to imagine this and I can’t. I don’t understand the challenges I would face. It’s easy to think about Milwaukee’s many blustery below freezing winter nights, but somehow finding a blanket doesn’t seem like enough.

When I spoke with Cary Gibson, the cook for the Gathering’s breakfast meal program, I started to understand. He lived on the street not for 20 days, but for 20 years. Cary said that in order to help keep warm, he would hide 3 blankets. The first one would inevitably be stolen while he was trying to sleep and then he would go to the hiding places of the others, hoping that at least one of them would still be there. He counted himself lucky if the thief only took his possessions. He has been attacked while trying to sleep many times… usually by another person coping with a situation similar to his; other times the attackers were four-legged threats.

By the railroad tracks, there are skunks to avoid. Elsewhere, you have to listen for and steer clear of coyotes. The hardest to deal with are the raccoons and other rodents.  They are smart and some have rabies.

They’ll climb all over you, especially if they smell food. Then, there are the domesticated varieties. People used to let loose their pit bulls along the river where Cary had been staying; he climbed into a thicket of thorns (where even the pit bulls wouldn’t go) to avoid them. With all this, a good night’s sleep isn’t an option. Then there is the challenge of hygiene. How can you bathe, shave, or brush your teeth? Cary said he had to wash different parts of his body each place he went - taking pigeon baths, he called it.

Cary had a hard life growing up, but he made the best of it. He tried to hold his family together by cooking, cleaning, and raising his younger siblings, but when he turned 17, he set out on his own. Although he struggled with alcoholism, he had a job and a place of his own for 14 years. That life ended when a bout of pneumonia put him in the hospital and he lost his job and eventually his home.

Living on the street, Cary really valued the big hot meal that the Gathering served in the mornings. He burned a lot of calories living outside. By the time he got there, he’d already walked 5 miles. He ate breakfasts at the Gathering for about 8 years and then he started volunteering. During that time, Cary also went into transitional housing and stopped drinking alcohol.

After 5 or 6 months of volunteering, the Gathering recognized the hard work and integrity that Cary exhibited and hired him as the breakfast cook. Having this part-time job has been an important motivator for Cary. He said that working again gives him a “sense of fulfillment...

There’s a certain feeling you get when you accomplish a goal like working – doing something positive, that’s what The Gathering is to me... The Gathering helps people in so many ways.

You can get a little direction – help with your problems, find the door to help you with what you need. That’s what’s special about the Gathering: it’s more than just the meal and some place warm.”

Cary has been in his own home for almost a year and now that he is back on his feet, he’s excited about the new road ahead of him. “The Gathering is just one of many steps I hope to take on my road to success.” He saved up two months rent to get ahead of schedule and he is excited to be paying rent and preparing taxes again!

There’s another thing about Cary that left me speechless. Imagine you were homeless for 20 years and after you finally got back in housing, you got a part-time job and you’ve been getting a paycheck for about 2 months. What would you do with this little extra money you have now? Get yourself something? Go to the casino? Cary started sponsoring a little girl in Indonesia. He’s been sponsoring her now for 10 months because he feels that there are a lot of people out there who need help.