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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011

Gathering Resources to Feed Milwaukee's Hungry

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For 30 years The Gathering has been a vital presence in Milwaukee, steadfastly maintaining its mission to "provide meals and associated services to those who would otherwise go hungry." The interfaith meal program serves approximately 100,000 guests every year, with 10 meals each week at three locations, according to Executive Director Virginia Schrag. Though the organization receives funding from foundations, corporations and churches, The Gathering also relies upon the generosity of community members and individual donations.

How dependent is The Gathering on volunteers?


We have between 1,500 and 2,000 volunteers each year and they do 99% of our direct service work. We couldn't do it without volunteers.

Considering the stress that has been placed on food banks, has it been a challenge to continue to serve meals at your current volume?


No, it hasn't. I think that with the economic downturn, a lot of people started deciding more seriously where their money should go when they wanted to give to charities, and have started to give to basic needs. We've been able to pretty much cover everything with donations. It hasn't been that much of a struggle. I can't say that it is going to continue, but so far we've been blessed.

Last year The Gathering launched the Fresh Produce Preservation Project. How effective has that program been?


This year it was even better, for several reasons. We were able to freeze three times the amount of food that we did last year, and the number of volunteers has quadrupled. We have stored a lot more food and are getting a little better at figuring out how best to use that. Our success this year was partly due to having a Marquette Trinity Fellow assigned to our organization, so we were able to do it more times a week. We also received a lot of support from volunteer Bill Balbach, the Witte Vegetable Farm and the Hunger Task Force farm.

What other services do you currently provide?


We have a collaborative program with the Homeless Nursing Outreach Center of the American Red Cross to provide mental health services on a weekly basis, since mental illness is such a big issue in the homeless population. We also have Legal Aid coming in once a week to deal with primarily municipal violations. That's another issue that people often have to get under control before they are even able to apply for jobs. We have St. Benedict's Family Medical Center come in a couple of times a month to make sure that people are connected with some sort of health care. And our host church for the breakfast program, St. James Episcopal Church, has a supply distribution program, and once a month they distribute hygiene supplies to our guests.
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