2014 Fresh Produce Preservation Project Report

Becky and Dora

Becky and Dora

The Fresh Produce Preservation Project (FPPP), started in 2010, perfectly complements the Gathering’s mission to feed the hungry and to do so with respect and dignity. By increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in our meals, we increase the nutritional value and food options available to our guests. Over the past four years, the FPPP has continued to expand and improve. This year, we welcomed a new Fresh Produce Project Manager: UW-Milwaukee Conservation and Environmental Sciences student, Dora.

Dora’s environmental focus brought new recipes, new connections and new knowledge to the project. One notable new partner was Duane, from Compost Express. Duane brought us produce such as plums, apples, peaches, corn, onions, potatoes and more that was in good shape and would have otherwise been composted. In addition, Duane took all remaining compostable materials from the project so we could limit our waste.

We also continued partnerships with the Hunger Task Force Farm and the Witte’s Vegetable Farm, who once again donated the majority of the project’s produce. We received contributions of apples again this year from the Mequon Nature Preserve, and additional produce from the UWM Food and Garden Club. We are grateful for their continued contributions. Dr. Phillips from UW-Milwaukee (whose class partnered with us last year for our COOLBOT project) also remained a strong partner, continuing to bring classes to assist with the project. Special thanks again, to All Saints Cathedral for allowing us to use their space for our Coolbot.

Produce colunteers picked apples at the Mequon Nature Preserve

Produce colunteers picked apples at the Mequon Nature Preserve

As always, our mighty volunteer force made the project possible. With almost 70 volunteers, 23% returning and 77% new, there were plenty of hands on deck. New volunteers included Milwaukee Public School students, a service group from NEWaukee, and Marquette University volunteers among other individuals and groups. Volunteers chopped peppers, canned apple pie filling, picked potatoes, onions and carrots and went out of their way to put away as much produce as possible for use in our community meals. Already in winter of 2015 we have used frozen potatoes in dishes, mirepoix in soups and sauces, and greens and poblano peppers in casseroles. Not to mention the onions. Let’s just say, by the end of the produce season, we were all in tears.

Thanks again to everyone who made the project possible this year. We are proud of the work we do to contribute to health and sustainability in Milwaukee and we are looking forward to what next season will bring.

Check out these all-star volunteers who reached service milestones in 2014:

100+ Hours Volunteering with the FPPP Eileen Duffey - 105 total hours

30+ Hours Volunteering with the FPPP Jill Kortebein - 45 total hours Lisa Kortebein - 30 total hours

Dora and returning produce project volunteers after a pepper-filled session

Dora and returning produce project volunteers after a pepper-filled session

TOTAL PRODUCE PRESERVED 1964 lbs. frozen vegetables, 30 quarts apple pie filling

478 lbs of carrots, 400 lbs of corn, 384 lbs of potatoes, 300 lbs of onions, 140 lbs of poblano peppers, 123 lbs of bell peppers, 70 lbs of mirepoix (carrot, onion and celery mixture), 40 lbs of green beans, 29 lbs tomatoes

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.

Discussion with St. Monica Catholic School Youth

St. Monica Catholic School is committed to “learn, live and love through Jesus.” The school focuses on a holistic approach to education: education of mind, spirit and body. As part of this holistic approach, St. Monica makes it their mission to incorporate hands-on social justice into their schooling. Throughout the past year, eighty-eight 7th and 8th grade St. Monica students volunteered with the Gathering’s breakfast program. Each month, the school brought a group down to prepare food, serve the meal and clean up. In May of this year, St. Monica faculty will also be serving a meal.

The students participated in the breakfast program by organizing pastries, preparing toast, wrapping silverware, serving ham, juice, milk, vegetables, fruit, and cleaning up the St. James’ breakfast site after the meal. They are a committed and eager group of students who was not afraid to jump into the experience head first.

They were also not afraid to share their experience with me openly and honestly. We had the opportunity to sit down with six students from St. Monica: Maura (7th grade), Laney (8th grade), Madeline (8th grade), Blase (7th grade), Charlie (7th grade) and Matthew (7th grade). The students spoke with an impressive maturity and depth and had a lot of insight to share during our round table interview. Check out some of what they had to say:

What does The Gathering mean to St. Monica and the Milwaukee community?

Charlie: When we were serving there, there were UWM students, Marquette students, I feel like it brings a lot of the different communities together. It is cool to see how much the community responds and how much they want to pitch in.

Maura: It’s not solving the world hunger problem, but it’s the small things that make such a difference in Milwaukee.

Charlie: Yeah, I think it’s important because, you know, all the years we are at St. Monica you have the aspect of learning about community service and helping others. This gave us an opportunity to actually put it into real life – and thats important. A good learning experience as well as something good that we do in our faith.

Blase: Yeah, I agree – it’s something we should do as Catholics, as Christians, something that you should do more than once. It makes you appreciate everything that you have. Some people have to come to shelters and meal programs to get food, we get to go home and have dinner waiting for us on the table.

Matthew: We live in an area where we don’t really get the sense of poverty. There is really no one in our neighborhoods who is struggling to eat, or anything like that. It really gave you a sense that there are actually people out there, fairly close to home that are struggling.

So, what is the link between faith and serving at The Gathering?

Maura: We learn a lot about Catholic Social Teaching and one of the questions in our reflection was what different parts of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) apply to this experience – I was surprised at how many different components did relate.

Madeline: I think it was a good experience to learn what CST actually is instead of just reading about it. When you actually go and see how many people are doing it, it’s pretty different.

Laney: Yeah, I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve done so much service, we’ve always done it in school and never gone outside and done it, so it was cool to travel.

What is one thing you learned from your experience with The Gathering?

Laney: I learned that even though people don’t have as much, they can be so happy. We want the latest and newest technology, but some people don’t even have a phone, or a home, but they’re happy.

Charlie: I learned that they’re real people. Just like you and I. When you think of a “homeless person,” you sometimes think of someone so foreign from us, but they’re relatable and just humans like us.

Maura: I learned that I should be a lot more positive. It made me really happy to see people being happy.

Blase: I learned that happiness does not come from objects, or all the things we have, it comes from other people. We were serving those people and that brought happiness inside of all of us. They don’t have a lot of things in their possession and still, most of them are still positive and happy and liked to see us working there. They smiled at us and everything.

Madeline: I learned that even though people don’t have as much as us, they’re still like us. They want to be treated the same, they don’t want to be treated differently and they treat you the same way as they treat their friends. We’re all equals.

Matthew: I learned, when you go to big cities, on street corners you see people sleeping on park benches, you see that they’re living in poverty. You see that in big cities like Chicago or DC, but, once you serve at the Gathering it really shows you there is actual poverty in your hometown.


Laney, Charlie, Maura, Blase, Madeline, Matthew and all of the St. Monica students and faculty promote the Gathering’s mission of serving the hungry and homeless in community. Their desire to put faith into action is important and we are thankful that there is a school that teaches this practice, even at a young age. We look forward to continuing our work with St. Monica.

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!

Volunteer Spotlight: Marquette University High School

MU high faculty discuss Milwaukee issues

MU high faculty discuss Milwaukee issues

When I walked into the St. James breakfast site one morning this past February, Marquette University High School’s Urban Plunge Retreat faculty members were gathered around. They were talking with George, the Gathering’s Breakfast Program Coordinator, about some of the causes of poverty in Milwaukee, such as barriers to employment, education, affordable housing, incarceration and more. All of the faculty members were contributing their own knowledge, expertise and curiosity to the conversation. You could tell right away that the group was invested, not only in the education of their students, but also in the well-being of their city.

Marquette University High School students have volunteered with the Gathering 334 times since they began in 2001. The core volunteering group comes from the sophomore class, which is required to get twelve hours of community service a semester. Sophomores choose to volunteer with The Gathering’s breakfast program or other service organizations around Milwaukee. After initially volunteering, some students continue the experience, even after graduation.

The students aren’t the only ones committed to service. Marquette High School faculty decided to do an urban immersion retreat this year, including visiting the service sites where students volunteer. “Everybody wanted to come and see what our students do here, to see what it is all about,” explained one faculty member. After a discussion about Milwaukee’s social issues, the group volunteered the following day to prepare, serve and clean up the Gathering’s breakfast.

We are so thankful for the students who choose the Gathering as their volunteer site. We are also thankful that they have teachers, administrators, leaders and role models who not only value service, but actively participate. We hope this partnership continues for many more years.