The Gathering’s Thanksgiving Meal

This past Saturday, November 23rd, the Gathering served a Thanksgiving brunch that consisted of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, TONS of pies (with whipped topping, of course), gravy, sweet potatoes, yams (with marshmallows and brown sugar), cranberry sauce and carrots. 590 guests were served at our three Saturday meal sites.

Thanksgiving turkey prep

Thanksgiving turkey prep

The Gathering has been so blessed to have numerous volunteers and generous individuals calling in to inquire about volunteering on Thanksgiving Day. While we appreciate the community support, the Gathering does not serve on the day of Thanksgiving (Thurs. Nov 28th). We serve ten meals every week throughout the year. On Thanksgiving Day, many of our guests take the day to be with family. In addition, there are many service organizations/churches/food pantries, etc. that serve delicious meals on this special day. So instead of repeating meals, we focus our attention on a meal the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day.

An AMAZING number of group and individual volunteers worked together to make the meal happen. Special thanks to Fox Point Lutheran Church, Immanuel Presbyterian, St. Mark’s Episcopal, Joe Bruno and more for preparing turkeys.

In addition, thanks to Southwood Glenn Elementary’s Market Day, Milwaukee College Prep, Joy Global and more for bringing amazing pies. Also SPECIAL THANKS to all of our cooks, coordinators and volunteers at the meal on Saturday. We could not have done it without you.

A Day in the life of a Van Driver

Jim Ardis, one of two Operations Coordinators/Van Drivers with the Gathering has been known to use the phrase: “once the van starts, it doesn’t stop.” The morning of February 12th, I finally figured out what Jim meant: Dennis Stokhaug, the other Operations Coordinator/Van Driver allowed me to join him on his daily runs.

5:00 a.m. Dennis picks up bags of surplus buns, apple pies and more from a McDonald’s Restaurant.

6:00 a.m. I join Dennis and we go to two more McDonalds. At each stop, Dennis pops in and collects whatever surplus the store has available. We are never stopped long—Dennis knows right where to go and has a solid routine.

7:15 a.m. The next stop? Restaurant Depot. I am amazed at the large warehouse filled with any supply needed for food service. We pick up hair nets, gloves, aprons, sugar packets, cups and more.

8:00 a.m. The van is getting a little crowded so we drop off some of the treasure we have collected at The Gathering’s downtown meal site at St. James Episcopal Church. We wave “hello” to the volunteers gearing up to serve breakfast and then, once again, are on our way.

8:30 a.m. This time we head to Pick ‘n’ Save where we find a large bin with our name on it full of leftover baked goodies and artisan breads. Needless to say, it was difficult to not indulge with that aroma wafting around the van. (Jim and Dennis must have great self control.)

9:00 a.m. Next Stop? Starbucks! If you've ever been to one of the Gathering’s meal sites, you will remember the beautifully arranged trays of baked goods that are always set out for our guests. Between Pick ‘n’ Save, Starbucks and McDonalds, we collect some pretty delicious treats. Dennis and I stop at two different Starbucks where bakery bins are once again waiting for us.

9:30 a.m. Before heading anywhere else, we drop off our mountain of bakery at the St. James site.

10:15 a.m. You may think after over four hours of collecting donations, we are about finished. Well, we are not! The next stop? Feeding America - where we pick up some lettuce and cabbage for salads for our three Saturday lunch sites. We also pick up loaves of bread for our breakfast and dinner programs. The best part? Our receipt reads $0.00

11:00 a.m. We have to make sure that each of our sites get enough vegetables and bread for the next few days, so we unload at Our Next Generation (near north side Saturday lunch) Christian Faith Fellowship East (near south side weekday dinners and Saturday lunch), and once again at the St. James location (weekday breakfast with Saturday lunch).

11:30 a.m. I part ways with Dennis, even though he still has another couple hours of pickups.

The Gathering’s meals would not be possible without the work of Jim and Dennis. In 2012 they collected an average of 1,100 pounds of donated food per week. Food that may have otherwise been thrown out. I was impressed with the quantity of food collected and the generosity of Milwaukee area donors. Above all, however, I was amazed at how much time and energy goes into morning pickups. I developed a new found respect for Jim and Dennis for making these rounds every weekday morning.


I asked Dennis what kept him going: “The people,” he told me. “Whenever I see someone leaving the food line and I ask them how they are feeling, they inevitably say they are blessed. That touches me. I learn from them [the Gathering’s guests]. They help me put things in perspective. There are some who always maintain a sense of humor, no matter what the circumstances.”

Dennis has been working for the Gathering for twelve years. He came out of retirement to do this demanding job. “In my previous job, it was all about me, you know, climbing the corporate ladder. But I think I found myself in this job because it is different. Now, there’s not a darn thing about me.” Thank you Dennis, Jim and all our donors for your commitment to this work and for being part of “people in community feeding the hungry.”

In-Kind Donations: FY 2011/2012

Donated Food – 174,313 pounds 111,007 pounds of fresh and nonperishable foods from government and other sources were donated through Hunger Task Force. An additional 1,100 pounds per week came from area restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, bread companies and food wholesalers. Area farmers and gardeners donated an estimated 7,200 pounds of fresh produce for our Produce Preservation Project, and numerous volunteer groups contributed coffee, milk and homemade dessert items on a weekly basis.

Donated Supplies & Services – 108 distributions

Items such as deodorant, toothpaste & toothbrushes, laundry soap, shampoo, lotion, combs and bath soap were distributed to guests on a monthly basis through Sundries from the Avenue, sponsored by St. James’ Episcopal Church. Sixty-four distributions of sandwiches/lunches “to go” were provided by 11 groups. Thirty-two additional distributions of winter outerwear, socks, treat bags, non-perishable foods and holiday decorations in addition to equipment and in-kind services were provided by individuals, schools, service clubs, churches and scout groups.