Local church feeds, empowers hungry

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St. Ben’s helps homeless with community meals

Volunteers serve meals to underprivilaged Milwaukee residents of all ages at St. Benedict the Moore Church.

Volunteers serve meals to underprivilaged Milwaukee residents of all ages at St. Benedict the Moore Church.

On a chilly October evening, more than 100 people lined up outside the church entrance of St. Benedict the Moor.

Some carried duffel bags full of clothing and toiletries over their shoulders, while others waited with only the coats on their backs.

Each person in line was waiting to enter the church’s basement kitchen for a community meal.

Inside the basement, the air was filled with voices and people moved in every direction. Guests carried their trays through the food line and took a seat in one of the 150 chairs. Volunteers slipped through the seating arrangements, pouring milk and coffee for the seated guests.

Six days per week, St. Benedict the Moor, 1015 N. 9th St., opens its doors to the hungry and homeless, serving an average of 370 meals per night, according to Michael Froemming, the meal’s nightly coordinator for the last 16 years.

For private sub-contractor Ted Belter and two of his friends, the meal is a place to get together to talk about politics and religion. They originally met at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission several years ago, and today each lives in his own apartment.

“When you have nowhere to go, this is a great safety net,” Belter said.

Since 1970, St. Benedict the Moor has partnered with about 85 local religious groups and organizations to provide the community meals. On any given night, at least three dozen volunteers set up the tables and chairs, serve food, pour drinks, wash dishes and greet the guests as they enter and leave the church.

Froemming said the meal gives guests a sense of inner strength amidst the “toxic” effects of poverty that “rob them of their dignity and self respect.”

“We try to enable them, to empower them to live up to their potential and to take care of themselves,” Froemming said.

Mike Emer, an eight-year volunteer, said feeding the hungry is one of Milwaukee’s greatest needs.

“Without community meals like this, hunger could be more devastating in Milwaukee,” Emer said.

Marcus Lucas, a security guard at the community meal for the last eleven months, said people come from many different situations and walks of life. Some are unemployed college graduates, while others struggle with drug addiction, he said.

Lucas said he knows of some families that sleep under a bridge after coming to the meal.

Each summer, attendance at the community meal grows to more than 450 people because more children are out of school, Emer said.

The 2008 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 23.4 percent of Milwaukee’s population, including 31.9 percent of children under the age of 18, lived below the poverty level.

“It’s something that affects all ages,” Emer said.

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