It feels like many of our quarterly team service projects have focused on food. In May 2015, we served with the Victory Garden Initiative building raised garden beds for area residents to grow their own food. In June 2016, we volunteered at the Hunger Task Force Farm where thousands of pounds of vegetables are grown and distributed to local food pantries. Most recently, in December 2016, we helped serve breakfast at The Gathering’s downtown meal site.

The Gathering, in essence, is a soup kitchen for the homeless, but just being there, you sense that it is much more than that. Several volunteers served a full and surprisingly balanced meal made mostly with donations in addition to coffee, juice, milk and bagged lunches. On the day of our service, Milwaukee was in the midst of a FRIGID week. So not only was a hot meal valuable, but a warm place to pass the time seemed just as important.

While reflecting on our teams past service projects that were food-focused, it occurred to me why they felt so natural. Yes, food and eating are integral and necessary to human life. But when eating together another human need is being met, community and connection. Having had the opportunity to serve a meal at two of the four Gathering sites, I can attest to each being a community, just as the program’s name implies.

Community can come in many forms and can be found anywhere. It could be a community of gardeners who share their harvest, or a community of food banks and pantries that share donated food or even a community of people not fortunate enough to have a permanent home who share a meal. Some communities happen by chance, others happen by intention. All communities, however, help to meet that human need of connection to others.

The Gathering is an interfaith ministry and has been serving the Milwaukee community for 35 years. With four locations, the Community Meal Programs are able to serve between 80,000 – 90,000 free meals each year with the help of 1,500 – 2,000 volunteers.