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Three years in the making, Grace Lutheran Church celebrated the grand opening of its neighborhood food pantry July 23 with about 50 members of the community present for the ribbon cutting, including State Sen. Bob Wirch, Bishop Paul Erickson from the Greater Milwaukee Synod and Anthony Kennedy, president of the Common Council.

The idea for the pantry began three years ago during the Rev. Jonathan Barker’s ordination luncheon.

“One of our members came up to me and said she was really struggling at what was going on, because there are hungry people in the neighborhood here in Uptown and she was having trouble connecting what they were doing at worship with what was happening in the neighborhood,” he explained. “Here I had been at Grace all of two hours and she was speaking a lot of truth.

“And ever since I started, we had people calling, looking for food and knocking at the door. There have been huge issues, which is why we started our meal program a month after I was ordained.”

Followed First Step closing

The Grace Welcome Center opened in response to the closing of First Step, a low barrier shelter in the community that assisted low income and homeless individuals. Grace Welcome Center provides breakfasts, showers and hygiene products for families, adults and children on Thursdays and Fridays.

With the shuttering of Piggly Wiggly, Fresh Market and Pick n’ Save on 63rd Street, Barker said it forced many in the area to shop at convenience stores for their food needs. Since most who come to the Welcome Center don’t have cars, and it is often difficult to carry groceries while transferring on the bus routes, many in the area are unable to get enough healthy food.

Last year, the Welcome Center served 6,500 guests.

“We hope to help the community see our purpose in the neighborhood and feel that we will attract those within a mile in each direction of our Food Pantry, as that seems reasonable to walk,” he said. “We are hoping to get those shopping carts for people to use to bring their groceries to their apartments up the street since transporting them is a big challenge. Numerous times people help each other to carry their groceries.”

To determine the need for the pantry, the Grace Welcome Center Pantry opened as a pilot program on June 4, serving at capacity with 40 families that first week of operation.

Open each Tuesday

The food pantry is open each Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Families may come in once per calendar month and must show photo identification for each member of their household receiving food. As individuals line up outside the pantry, volunteers hand out 40 tickets.

Because she believed in the mission, Grace Lutheran member Denise Russell stepped away from her business to become the food pantry director.

“It was a gut wrenching feeling to step away from my business.” Denise said. “But I was being led to help others who were always asking us for food, and I knew I had been given the ability to run something like this. I had to take this on.”

The ministry is hugely important for Barker and all who call Grace Lutheran home, especially considering a recent report that the federal government is contemplating the reduction of food stamps.

“This is a horrible idea as there are so many who are hungry and a cut would be a tragedy,” he said. “Isaiah 58 tells us we are to share our food and bread with those who don’t have any. This is a central piece of my faith as to what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”

Provide days of food

Each month, food pantry guests receive four to five days of groceries for their families. While Barker admits the food won’t solve the overall hunger problem, their service is meant to complement the soup kitchen network in the city.

“There are breakfast programs and community meal programs; and between our food pantry, food stamps, Saturday meal programs, and more it should help people get through the month,” he explained. “We are grateful that we can offer frozen meat, veggies and other fresh foods. So many in this community are hungry and a lot of people have not eaten for a day or two; there are empty cupboards in homes and some have mental health challenges, which would be hard for any of us, but it is hard and frustrating to watch our guests go through it.”

Support for the pantry are coming from private donors, financial contributions from businesses, area churches, community groups, Festival Foods and through the state.

Donations still needed

Barker is hoping for more donations from the community, especially jelly and jam.

“People love to give peanut butter, but don’t always give jam or jelly and we need those items,” he said. “I know jellies and jams can be pricey, but the peanut butter is lonely on the bread. We are excited when churches do jelly drives as it really helps.”

The Grace Welcome Center Pantry is also in need of financial contributions to offset the overhead in running six refrigerators, dehumidifiers and air conditioning. Those able to donate are asked to donate through the website or by mail.

Feedback from the food pantry and the Welcome Center is positive and guests are appreciative of the assistance.

“People come to us during a hard moment of their life and food is something that is inviting, especially if you don’t have any. People are exceedingly grateful when they have received support. Guests have written letters and shared the way the community uplifts and encourages them,” he said. “Being able to ‘walk the talk’ is a phrase around our church. It is important for us to do that.

“It’s been pretty amazing over the past couple of years, new members have volunteered at the Welcome Center and guests at the Welcome Center have joined our congregation. It is a blessing to the community to worship and serve together.”

If you want to help

Send checks to:

Grace Welcome Center Food Pantry, 2006 60th St., Kenosha WI 53140

or

For more information: 262-654-9143

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