414 Heroes: How One Volunteer Can Have a Huge Impact

“Why do I volunteer? It’s something to do every day, and a lot of friends of mine from the neighborhood come here.”


I’m retired — I was a welder for 40 years — and live on the north side of Milwaukee. Originally, I was a meal guest at The Gathering. One day I noticed the trash and tray area lacked volunteers, and it was getting backed up. When that happens, the whole operation gets backed up. So I started to help and never stopped.

The Gathering provides free meals, cooked on site, to those who would otherwise go hungry. There are four sites around the city; I’m at the Running Rebels site at 1300 W. Fond du Lac Ave. We serve between 100 and 250 people every day. I basically do what needs to be done. There are mostly women here, so I do the heavy lifting when donations come in: cartons of canned goods, boxes of fresh produce, that sort of thing.

Now, by law, there are no sit-down gatherings, so we are restricted to bag breakfasts. We put them on a distribution table at the front door; guests no longer come into the building. We try to have some variety because people have preferences, and some have food allergies or sodium issues. We try to offer one hot meal and one cold. Hot meals are served in clamshell cartons.

This morning, for example, we offered scrambled eggs, tater tots, milk and cereal, fruit, a piece of pastry, juice and a granola bar.

For the most part, our guests are thankful and grateful, and they let us know that in different ways. Today there was a woman here with her four children. Each one of them said thank you very politely.

Why do I volunteer? It’s something to do every day, and a lot of friends of mine from the neighborhood come here.

– As told to Carolyn Kott Washburne

The Go-To Guy

Jerry is very modest about the work he does here — he doesn’t let on about how much passion he has. He is here every single day, and he stays well past the volunteering hours without us asking him to. A volunteer like that is invaluable. Jerry doesn’t talk much about how poverty affects the African American community, but he does have his finger on the pulse. He knows about all of the shelters, meal programs and resources in the city. When guests ask me where they can get clothes or the next meal, and I’m not sure, I turn to Jerry.


– Natalee Kashou, Breakfast and Marketing Manager, The Gathering of Southeastern Wisconsin

How to Help

Cash donations, of course, are always appreciated. So are in-kind donations, although the need varies. Currently there is a need for fresh fruit and/or fruit cups, juice boxes, bottled water (not sparkling), plastic grocery bags, to-go containers with compartments, “clamshell” 6X6 to-go containers, hand sanitizer and cloth face masks. Needs are updated weekly on The Gathering’s Facebook page or website