Gathering Staff

Meet Our New Breakfast Team

The Breakfast Team:  Christopher, Nicole, and Patricia

The Breakfast Team:  Christopher, Nicole, and Patricia

In the fall of 2015 we welcomed Nicole Franklin as our new Breakfast Coordinator, Patricia Moore as our new Breakfast Cook, and Christopher Pernell as our newly assigned Security Guard. In a recent conversation the three agreed that they make a very good team and are blessed that they can make a difference in someone’s life every day at work.

Nicole: Mother of 3 daughters and one son (ages 10-19). Nicole has 20 years experience working in community organizations. She continues to work with children from Kindergarten-8th grade and their parents as Site Coordinator for two of COA’s afterschool programs. Nicole loves giving back and especially “loves the people” (our guests). Born and raised in Milwaukee (Milwaukee High School of the Arts), Nicole enjoys driving, all sorts of travel and spending time with her family.

My observation: Nicole has an amazing ability to approach any situation calmly and with reason; she is unflappable and upbeat.

Patricia: Mother of 4 daughters and grandmother of 6 (ages 2-14). Pat loves, loves, loves cooking. She has cooked professionally in the community for 27 years, and continues to cook at the St. Vincent de Paul south side dinner program. Pat appreciates how the Breakfast Program works and enjoys giving back to the community. Born in Louisiana, Pat moved to Milwaukee as a teenager (North Division High School). She enjoys spending time with her grandkids, family gatherings, and, of course, cooking.

My observation: Pat expresses joy daily in her work in The Gathering’s Breakfast kitchen; she does indeed love cooking and treasures the feedback from our guests; she is quick to smile.

Christopher: Assigned to The Gathering by Great Lakes Security. Chris was born and raised in Milwaukee (Northwest High School) and is the uncle to many nephews. What Chris likes about providing security at the Breakfast Program is that he is also helping people, putting a smile on someone’s face, calming situations that arise, simply providing a cup of coffee. He has come to feel fortunate for what he has been given. Outside of work, Chris enjoys his nephews, plays basketball, and serves as a volunteer basketball coach at COA.

My observation: Great smile; willing to help in any way possible – welcoming guests and volunteers, unloading the delivery van, handing out coffee, assisting in finding guest resources – in addition to providing security.

 In closing, the team agreed that - even though from time to time they are dragging, not quite awake (arrival time is 6:30 a.m.) or just not moving very fast - when the meal guests arrive, so does the energy. If you haven’t had a chance to see the team at work, come on down! Individuals and groups up to 3 people are welcome any Monday – Friday morning, 7:00-10:00 a.m., St. James’ Episcopal Church, 833 W. Wisconsin Avenue. Larger groups, please call The Gathering office at 414-272-4122 to schedule.

Reflection for August 2015

Our reflection this newsletter is written by Becky Long, the Gathering’s Program and Volunteer Manager. August 1 was Becky’s last day with us; she is moving on to work in the housing field. We will miss her terribly. ~ Ginny Schrag, Executive Director

Staff members Angela, Becky, and Marianne at the Gathering’s first ever major donor event

Staff members Angela, Becky, and Marianne at the Gathering’s first ever major donor event

I remember my first staff meeting with the Gathering vividly. The staff team felt like a curious little world that I wanted to be a part of—but was also kind of intimidated by. It was hard to imagine back then how quickly I’d get swept up into that energy, humor, compassion and dynamic fast-paced environment that kept and still keeps the Gathering spinning.

I remember another staff meeting on the south side nearly a year later. We had had a few very busy weeks with some expected and unexpected challenges, but everyone managed and continued the spin. At this particular meeting, we slowed down. Ginny took a moment to tell the staff how thankful she was for their work. I hadn’t been around very long, but I remember in that moment feeling proud and joyful. I remember looking around and agreeing wholeheartedly. This was an exceptional team. I knew that I belonged to this team and could learn from them, and learn I did.

Jim taught me that tough love and forming relationships can go a long way. Ed taught me the beauty that comes with devoting yourself to a cause. Moses taught me that there’s always a way to make it work. Dennis taught me, no matter how hard things get, you can still hope for the million dollars. Marianne taught me how to seamlessly integrate love, laughter and efficiency into the workplace and Ginny taught me the importance of being a patient, humble and incredibly dedicated leader.

I remember when Bob, Angela, and Rosy were added to the pack. Sitting at staff meetings, it was weird to not feel like the “new kid” anymore, but they never really felt like new kids either. Angela deeply cared about the guests, volunteers, staff and the Breakfast Program from day one. And Bob’s quips about corn dogs helped maintain the joyful attitude the Gathering is famous for. And who could forget Rosy? Together with Angela, they form a dream team with a passion that not only keeps the Gathering spinning, but pumps the Breakfast Program up to warp speed with a contagious, fun liveliness that can’t stop, won’t stop, and shouldn’t stop.

I guess it’s strange, but leaving this meal program, my reflections don’t bring me back to tables of food and guests. The tables that stick out in my mind are the office tables. Where the people I had grown to care for, learn from and belong to came together—where plans, ideas, concerns, lists, laughter and happiness were shared. The table that I come back to in my reflections doesn’t bring people together for a physical meal, but one of purpose, fulfillment, fellowship and spiritual nourishment.

I know when I leave, the Gathering will keep on spinning. New sources of energy will come and go and keep it alive. I am sad to leave what has felt like family for three years, but I know there will always be a place for me at the table.

Meet Bob: Our New Operations Coordinator

Bob came into The Gathering’s office with a photo of the back of The Gathering’s van full of lettuce, milk, eggs, bread, desserts and more. 

“Can you believe all of the good food we got?”

He was talking about his recent excursion to Feeding America, where he and Rosy, the Gathering’s breakfast cook, stopped in to see what they could use for the breakfast meal. Bob’s enthusiasm was contagious as he showed the picture around the office.

Bob loads fresh milk into the van with a smile on his face.

Bob loads fresh milk into the van with a smile on his face.

After a few weeks of training with long time Operations Managers Dennis and Jim, Bob has been at the position for four weeks. He is already working to balance ordering food, driving to pickups and deliveries, measuring quantities for meals, recipe planning, food storage and more. The Operations Manager position is one of multi-tasking.

Bob, who runs an insurance agency with his wife Sue, certainly knows multi-tasking. In addition to his work with the Gathering, Bob still spends time selling auto, home and life insurance primarily to families. He also spends time with his own family; 4 children and 7 grandchildren. 

“I am happiest when spending time with my family ... doing just about anything.”  

When not working or spending time with family, Bob has also volunteered at the VA and the Red Cross. That’s how he first got interested in the nonprofit sector. He explained that the Gathering’s job post was similar to his work with the Red Cross.


“I know Milwaukee has a lot of needs and I felt I could blend nicely with this position.”


Bob has been blending nicely with the Gathering community the past few weeks. When asked what his favorite part of the job is so far, he responded:


“Without a doubt, the people. The volunteers at the sites are great to work with, as are the partners again that I have met at the places that help us. I also enjoy the staff at the south side, St James and of course the people at our office who have made me feel very welcome! All of that plus just knowing that what I do does make a difference. The people who come to our meal program not only get a meal, but they get to come in to a safe warm place to enjoy a meal and be with other people who care.”


We are thankful to have another committed, passionate person join the Gathering’s team. You can see Bob Monday through Friday on the Gathering’s van. He’ll be the one with cases of fruit and bread.

Goodbye Dennis and Jim

Jim and Dennis at the Gathering’s Brewer’s Outing in 2007

Jim and Dennis at the Gathering’s Brewer’s Outing in 2007

After 14 and 15 years respectively, Dennis Stokhaug and Jim Ardis are leaving their shared position as Operations Managers for the Gathering. Jim will stay on as Dinner Coordinator, and both have offered to train the new person when hired. It’s difficult wrapping one’s brain around the thought of their impending departures.

In 2000, Jim Ardis began working with the Gathering as our full time Operations Manager, responsible for the purchase, storage and transport of food, and oversight of equipment and facility maintenance and repairs at all Gathering Sites. A year later, Dennis Stokhaug took on that role while Jim concentrated on the Dinner Program. And five years after that, they began sharing the Operations Manager duties.

It’s a tough job: early hours, lots of driving, keeping your cool, schmoozing with donors of food and supplies, making sense out of inventory lists, locating the best deal on an item, responding to a multitude of “bosses”, heavy lifting, and stairs, stairs, stairs!

What could possibly keep each of them committed to this work for so many years?

Jim says:

“I enjoyed over the years being with the people tasked with the duties of distributing goods to the people in our society who have the most pressing needs. Their dedication was, in many instances, more than enough inspiration to return for another day. A question was asked me once, ‘Did I know anyone whose life had been changed by coming to the Gathering?’ The first person I thought of was me. End of story.”

Dennis shared this story:

“I worked for thirty five years for a company downtown. I saw many people who called the street their home. I watched them walk the streets aimlessly, saw them sleeping in alleys, searching for food. If by chance you would walk past them the question was always the same, ‘Hey, buddy could you spare a dime?’ I must admit most times I would continue on my way but there were times I would share. I finally retired and made a lot fewer trips downtown, but I never felt the downtown street left me. [When] I came across the ad for the Gathering [Operations Manager], I knew this was what I needed in my life and for the people that I had passed for so many years. Here it is 14 years later, driving the third van, a total of 350,000 miles, 1200 stops to fill the vans, tons of food. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the Gathering. I don’t know if I made a difference, but I can tell you the Gathering has made a difference with me.”

We will all miss you, Dennis, for your calm demeanor, your thankfulness, your respect for our guests.

And Jim, even though you will still be around with the Dinner Program, we will miss your diehard belief that organizations and programs and the Gathering can always be better.

Welcome Angela and Rosy

One of the realities of working in a meal program is the ever-changing population of guests and volunteers. This often means a lot of difficult goodbyes, but it also means that we are constantly welcoming eager folks into our community. Gathering staff, on the other hand, have been a consistent presence. But that all changed in late summer of 2014 with the resignations of our long time Breakfast Coordinator, George Neureuther, and our Breakfast Cook, Cary Gibson.

We have been blessed to welcome two talented and passionate staff members to the Gathering’s team: Angela Wright and Rosy Ricks. Both began working in September; Rosy as the Gathering’s Breakfast Cook, and Angela as Breakfast Coordinator. The team hit the ground running with new menus, new volunteers, and fresh ideas.

Angela sorts through sign-in sheets, community service paperwork and more after breakfast

Angela sorts through sign-in sheets, community service paperwork and more after breakfast

Angela

Angela came to the Gathering through her work as Dinner Program Coordinator for the St. Vincent DePaul Society’s south side meal site. Thanks to this experience, she already had a relationship with a number of our guests as well as plenty of experience running a meal program. When asked how she got involved in this line of work, she was inspired by the parable of modern day Good Samaritans, people who stop to help victims of poverty when society may not. 

The Bible tells a story of a Priest, Levite and a Good Samaritan who all came across a poor injured man in the road. The 1st question the priest and the Levite asked was, If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?’ But the Good Samaritan reversed the question If I don't stop to help this man, what will happen to him? I got involved for the opportunity to help and serve others. I believe that my purpose in life is to praise, worship and serve God. What better way to serve him than by giving and helping others?

This answer demonstrates that Angela’s faith is a huge motivator in her chosen path. She acts out her faith daily by greeting everyone with a smile, never-ending patience, and humor. She explained that interacting with all of the people at the breakfast program is another big motivator for her.

I have the privilege of opening up (the meal site) every morning Monday-Friday, running, ducking and dodging any ghosts that may be lurking in the dark in order to get things prepped for a group of great volunteers willing to help feed those less fortunate. Then I get to be able to talk to and meet people that are in need of a kind gesture, a little motivation, some resources, but most importantly a nice cooked meal. Thank God for the cook! (Rosy the magician can hide almost anything in her dishes), and the security from our gatekeepers, Great Lakes Security, and the assistance from always helpful Bob Heindl and smiling Deacon Ned. I really enjoy seeing God at work blessing others. I enjoy meeting individuals like Ray, Reggie, Craig, Curtis, Stephanie and Noda, just to name a few, that are living testimonies of God’s love for us.

Angela’s faith-filled purpose and appreciation of others is made clear in the way that she interacts gently and compassionately with guests, volunteers, and even Lydia, the fabled St. James’ basement ghost. Angela has a calming presence and a deep concern for the well-being of everyone in the Gathering community. We are honored to have her as a part of our team.

Rosy

Rosy has a lifetime of experience cooking and exploring unique avenues to bring about a more just food system. Whether it’s growing her own food, working in various soup kitchens, purposefully living in community, or just thinking up innovative ways to bring people around the table. She is never short of ideas, and the Gathering community has benefited.

“Everyones a pretty good sport when I dream up an unusual dish or start sneaking healthy things in. I like that weve jelled together as a flexible and functional team and that coming to work is actually something I look forward to. I also like chatting with Dennis and Jim [Gathering Operations Coordinators] when they come in and how receptive they are to my strange ingredient requests. I feel challenged in all the right ways and supported by a lot of really amazing people and I cant say thats something Ive experienced too often working in nonprofits.”

We are convinced that Rosy could make a delicious, nutritious meal out of just about anything. So far her dishes have included biscuits with gravy loaded up on vegetables and meat, chicken campanile, chunky potato and meat soup, turkey or vegetarian chili, and many more. Just don’t be surprised when you see a carrot or some greens hiding in your entrée.

Rosy shared her secret to getting all the food on the table and the kitchen in order each morning. 

Mornings are pretty tough for me, but I really do love what I'm doing, so it makes getting out of bed a little easier. When I come in, there are a few regular volunteers there to do some of the daily tasks, like rolling silverware or pulling down chairs. I start by doing an inventory of the cooler, getting things into the ovens, and determining what kind of help I will need for cooking and prep tasks with Angela. I try to get a read on folks to see who has the types of skills I need for the day. Often, it's been getting meat off of bones, making stock, and prepping veggies and starches for soups and multiple ingredient dishes.

Curtis also lends a hand every now and again with pulling meats and veggies, and Craig has the most important job of all; making sure the coffee is ready as soon as humanely possible. (Curtis and Craig are long time volunteers from the guest population.) Once we are prepped and ready to serve, I will keep one or two volunteers in the kitchen with me to help with running food to the line, or prepping for the next few day’s meals. Occasionally, I get a really exceptional kitchen volunteer, and that allows me to do more complex dishes, like the turkey and wild rice stew with cherries or Chinese style dishes.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Angela and Rosy have worked hard the past few months managing the fast-paced, energetic atmosphere of the Gathering’s Breakfast Program. They have done it with grace, style and efficiency. We are so thankful to have them as a part of our team and we look forward to what they will be able to accomplish in 2015.