One or two people at a time walked up to Hephatha Lutheran Church on Locust Street to take freshly cooked meals last week.
"It always takes some time for people to learn about it," Pastor Karen Hagen said. "Soon we will have a line around the block."
Hungry Hearts, a food distribution program born out of the pandemic, is relaunching after an almost one-year hiatus.
Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church, on Milwaukee's south side, designed the program in April 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic furthered food insecurity in communities and threatened restaurants.
The church partnered with restaurants around the area, paying them to cook fresh meals that volunteers would later hand out.
It helped serve the community in other ways after its Tippecanoe Divine Intervention warming room was forced to close because of the pandemic.
The restaurants stayed in business, and families in need of a meal were able to eat.
Hungry Hearts served its last meal on Oct. 30, 2021. It was able to raise nearly $400,000, which helped volunteers hand out 22,800 meals. Hungry Hearts received two grants, but most of the donations were from individual donors, who often gave $10 or $100 at a time.
Tippecanoe Presbyterian, in partnership with Hephatha Lutheran Church, relaunched the program on Sept. 24.
"Over the summer, we began to hear reports that the numbers of homeless and the numbers of hungry people in the county was higher than it had been in many years," Hagen said.
Hagen says that had a lot to do with rent and eviction moratoriums ending, which has put a lot of families in crisis mode again.
"There are many factors, including inflation and juggling income for low-income individuals and families," Hagen said.
This time, the mission will operate out of Hephatha Lutheran Church and will serve the 53206 neighborhood, though anyone — even those who live outside the ZIP code — is welcome to receive a meal.
The church is working closely with Milwaukee Continuum of Care — an organization that serves Milwaukee's homeless community.
"All of the nonprofit agencies that are serving different populations that are in need across Milwaukee are in regular contact with us ... we are hearing them say 'we are up 30% in terms of need,'" said Trish Eckert, the incoming pastor at Tippecanoe.
"Inflation is going up, prices are going up, gas is expensive, rent ... everything is going up and people's income is not going up."
A two-fold mission
The program will continue as long as funding will allow. Three out of the 10 independently owned restaurants participating will be in rotation each Saturday.
Gregory Leon, executive chef and owner of Amilinda, helps recruit the participating restaurants and organizes the schedules.
Leon was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award, which recognizes exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality and media worlds, according to its website.
"We are supporting local restaurants and all of their employees as well, but there is this wonderful outcome," Eckert said. "This really high quality, yummy food is being offered and it adds to the dignity and the respect."
Leon started working with Hungry Hearts after the Divine Intervention warming room at Tippecanoe closed.
"For the community, it's providing, hopefully, a steady source of nutritious meals for people who, perhaps, are in a financial situation where they're having trouble feeding themselves." Leon said.
The meals that Amilinda provides, along with the other restaurants on the roster, are the same meals people who dine in will receive.
"We're also feeding people and are providing meals that perhaps (this population) wouldn't normally have access to," Leon said.
Holy Grocery and Deli
Lopez Bakery and Restaurant
Alem Ethiopian Village
The Pasta Tree Restaurant & Wine Bar
Lazy Susan MKE
How to get a meal
Anyone can receive a meal at Hephatha Lutheran Church, 1720 W. Locust St., every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon or as long as meals last.
How to help
Anyone wishing to volunteer with the program can email email@example.com
To make a monetary donation, you can send a check marked to Tippecanoe Church, 125 W. Saveland Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207 or log on to tippechurch.org
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Hungry Hearts has relaunched and will serve free meals