dinner program

Volunteer Spotlight: East Troy High School National Honors Society

The National Honors Society (NHS) at East Troy High School has been volunteering with the Gathering for over 15 years, and in the words of student Krystal Jacobs, “We have a great experience every time!” East Troy High is one of many high schools that volunteers with the Gathering, but, unlike many other schools, East Troy students travel over 30 miles to make it to the Gathering’s dinner program. The commute may be limiting for many, but for East Troy National Honors Society students—it is a welcome challenge.

Jacobs explained that in order to transport 15 students to volunteer, they needed to get their own bus. The NHS students rallied together and fundraised to afford the bus. These fundraisers included creative opportunities such as: Duct Tape A Teacher, where students paid for the opportunity to duct tape their teachers to a wall (an idea they found on Pinterest), selling carnations for Valentine’s Day and doing their own version of eharmony for students. The students successfully raised the money to rent a bus and were able to volunteer on February 22nd. 

Fifteen NHS members signed up to volunteer. The students cleaned and set up tables, wrapped silverware, prepared food and worked the food line.

“The most meaningful thing, hands down, for all of us, was seeing and hearing how grateful the people were for their meal. There is nowhere else where you can see someone so happy for our volunteer work. Definitely put a smile on our faces as well!”

The NHS members had a great time volunteering. They even adopted nicknames for their fellow students based on what they were serving in line, like Peaches, Cookie, Beans, and Dressing.

The students were especially touched by their interaction with the Gathering’s guests. “We met a guy, Monte. He checked the name on our hats and wanted to be polite and address us by our first names. He was very thankful for what we were doing at The Gathering.”

Like Monte, the Gathering community is also thankful for what East Troy High School and other students do to travel to a meal site and volunteer. We look forward to seeing Peaches, Cookie, Beans, Dressing, Napkins, Coffee, and all other East Troy NHS students when they come volunteer again in March. Who knows, maybe Ed the chef will let us duct tape him to the wall!

Looking Down the Dirt Road with Jeanne

Jeanne (second from the right) with fellow volunteers at the dinner program

Jeanne (second from the right) with fellow volunteers at the dinner program

“I got involved with the Gathering because I was homeless, because I lost my job and I couldn’t pay my rent. And that’s basically the long and short of it. I came in one day and asked the coordinator downtown if she needed any help and the rest was pretty much Gathering history.”

Jeanne explained this story to me when asked how she first got involved with the Gathering. She is indeed a part of Gathering history, as she has been volunteering for the Gathering’s meal programs for about ten years.

Jeanne understands the issues that contribute to hunger and homelessness, having spent plenty of time at the Gathering and in Milwaukee. When sitting down with me, Jeanne discussed the Great Depression, the history of Milwaukee, labor issues, urban sprawl, globalization, deindustrialization and the rust belt, the education system, employment issues and more.

“We never looked down the dirt road to see that the corporations and manufacturing jobs were not going to be here. I knew a lot of people that used to have decent, good paying jobs. But now we need to reinvent ourselves—because the industrial day is gone.”

Jeanne is adept at recognizing a lot of the structural and systemic issues that contribute to poverty, hunger and homelessness in Milwaukee. Her lived experiences as well as her self-education have taught her what is needed to turn things around for many disadvantaged individuals:

“Change doesn’t ever come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up. Maybe the time will come when somebody will get inspired to go out and say, ‘Enough! No more.’ People shouldn’t have to live like this. They shouldn’t have to suffer like this. We can do better.”

For Jeanne, and others involved in the Gathering community, the Gathering offers opportunities to do better. Even opportunities to influence change.

“Look at all the people that come here. Where do you find people like this? I don’t know of anywhere else where you might be able to go and meet all of the different kinds of people that come here. We’re like one big adopted dysfunctional family…Maybe [The Gathering] is an idea showing what cooperation could be like. Maybe even showing an idea of what things could be like. If you leave the baggage at the door and everybody comes here and everybody gets together. Who knows? You’ve seen what people do here. We just come in and do whatever. Everybody has a job, everyone has pretty much done every job. Everybody comes in here and does whatever needs to be done. The work gets done. We have fun doing it. But we realize the most important thing is not that we have fun, but the work we do, the most important thing is that people get fed. And that’s basically where it starts. A person comes in here, they’re hungry, and we feed ‘em. You’re going to get so much more back when you do that. I can sit here and preach to the choir but there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself.”

Jeanne’s communal view of the Gathering and the work being done is shared by others who volunteer with her at the Gathering’s dinner program. Some dinner volunteers have even tossed around the idea of opening their own restaurant. Jeanne’s ideas, communal vision, education and articulate hope for the future represent one piece of the puzzle that is needed to end hunger and homelessness.

Program Information: FY 2011/2012

Numbers and activities listed below are for our fiscal year - July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012

Number of meals served in FY 2011/2012:  152,432

Breakfast – 57,130 guests

Breakfast is served Monday through Friday - St. James' Episcopal Church, 833 W. Wisconsin Avenue.  Because 60% to 70% of breakfast guestsare homeless, collaborative mental health, legal, and medical assistance is provided on site weekly.

Dinner – 13,108 guests

Dinner is served Mondays and Wednesdays at our south side site - Christian Faith Fellowship Church East, 724 S. Layton Blvd. This is our most diverse population with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

Saturday Lunch – 26,580 guests

Saturday lunch is served at the above two locations and at Our Next Generation Neighborhood Center (formerly St. Andrew’s Outreach Center), 35th & Lisbon.  Between 25 and 30% of guests are children. Mt. Carmel Lutheran (82nd & Center) serves a Saturday lunch on the fourth Saturday of each month.

Shelter Meal Program – 44,755 meals

August 1, 2011 marked the beginning of our Shelter Meal Program (SMP) funded by Community Advocates. The Gathering prepares all meals on location, seven days a week, for 70-100 residents of the Women’s Refuge homeless and domestic violence shelters, and Autumn West (housing for adult mentally ill). An additional residential shelter housing 12 individuals will be added in late 2012. This program is staffed by 6 part-time employees (4 cooks & 2 drivers), a part-time manager and a nutrition consultant. Community Advocates provides the funding, kitchen and equipment; the Gathering provides the staffing, food and delivery of services. We have developed a volunteer component to the program which is in its fledgling stage. This collaboration is an excellent melding of the strengths of two long standing anti-poverty agencies.

 Our Next Generation – 10,859 meals

This tutoring/mentoring program at 35th & Lisbon - one of our Saturday lunch sites - serves a light meal four afternoons each week to program participants of middle school and high school age.  The Gathering provides food for these meals.