Two years ago, Rev. Jonathan Barker welcomed the community to join him for a nice, hot breakfast at Grace Lutheran Church, 2006 60th Ave.

“I remember that day,” Barker said. “I bought one dozen eggs.”

With the support of local churches, schools, groups and dozens of volunteers, the Grace Welcome Center celebrated on Thursday its second anniversary of providing hot meals and a clean, safe environment to those in need. The center served 5,710 meals last year, according to Barker.

Grace Lutheran Church cooks breakfast, provides showers and distributes new undergarments from 7 to 9:30 a.m. on Thursday and Friday mornings.

Amazing growth

The program started with six employees, four volunteers and $50 in its account.

Funds began arriving when a group of Grace Lutheran members gathered more than $3,000 through a massive bake sale and Harborside Academy staff and students raised $2,000 with a benefit concert.

The support continued with church volunteers from St. John’s Lutheran, Holy Nativity Lutheran, St. Matthews Episcopal, St. Mary’s Lutheran, St. Anne’s Catholic and St. Anthony’s Catholic and student volunteers from Bradford High School, University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Carthage College.

Harborside’s concert allowed the program to expand to twice a week. Students also created colorful artwork to liven up Grace Lutheran’s dark, wood-paneled cafeteria.

“It’s been amazing to see all of the different groups come together,” Barker said. “In Kenosha, we all come from different backgrounds, live in different neighborhoods, have different races, religions and genders, but we’re all totally dependent on each other.”

A place to flourish

The low-barrier program offers a peaceful, non-judgmental environment and a place for people to flourish, Barker said. Perhaps, more than anything, it provides many a wonderful way to start their day.

“I wake up on Thursday and Friday and I get excited,” said one guest, who identified herself as Angie. “I know I’m going to have a good breakfast. They have beautiful french toast, sausage and stuff like that. The coffee warms you up in the middle of winter when it’s really cold outside. It just makes your day.”

The mission of Grace Welcome Center is to “strengthen families by supporting children and adults through offering hope, shelter, food, companionship and resources.”

More growth ahead

Church employees said they are close to announcing “exciting news” involving program expansion.

For the first time, local students are offering free dance lessons for guests 8 a.m. today at the Grace Welcome Center.

“We’ve seen phenomenal growth,” Grace Welcome Center program director Leif Peterson said. “We’ve not only seen growth in the number of people we serve, but also with volunteers.”

The program is funded entirely by private donations and grants. Those interested in contributing can make checks out to Grace Welcome Center, 2006 60th St., Kenosha WI 53140 or donate online by visiting www.gracewelcomecenter.org.

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