When the Hungry Hearts relief organization first began offering free meals in May on the south side to people in need, it took two or three hours before the last meal was gone. Now it takes a half-hour.
That tells the Rev. Karen Hagen, an organizer of Hungry Hearts, that the need for the meals continues.
Three different restaurants prepare the meals each week, and the restaurants are paid $10 for each meal. Besides feeding those in need, the program is meant to help keep restaurants afloat while the pandemic sharply reduces their revenue.
Nineteen restaurants have contributed meals so far, most of them on the south side.
The meals generally include a vegetarian choice, and restaurants are asked to use halal meats. Flyers that initially advertised the meals were printed in Burmese, Spanish, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Swahili, Urdu, Somali, Arabic, French and Hmong.
Hungry Hearts distributed its first 300 meals on May 23 and has given away 300 meals each Saturday since then. After this weekend, Hungry Hearts will have disbursed 4,800 meals.
For the past month, 100 of the meals have been driven to people who can’t come to the pickup point for reasons of health, age or transportation.
Hagen, who also is the pastor of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church on the south side, said people who come to pick up a meal sometimes ask how much longer the food will be available.
Hungry Hearts is funded through December, but Hagen wants to raise enough money to take the organization through May.
“None of us wants to be the person who says ‘We’re done,’ ” Hagen said. “None of us wants to have to say that to these people who are coming for these meals.”
Gifts from $10 to $10,000
Hungry Hearts so far has received more than $98,000. Some of that was major grants from the Presbytery of Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
But nearly $43,000 came from individuals, Hagen said. One person gave $10,000, some gave their federal stimulus checks, but many more gave $10.
“Some of the sense of urgency may be lifting because we’ve had to deal with this so long,” Hagen said, citing a “coping mechanism that helps us survive this time.”
Although the rate rebounded more than expected in August, unemployment remains high, with about 11.5 million more people jobless than before the pandemic.
How to help Hungry Hearts
People can help by donating funds or by volunteering their time.
Hungry Hearts needs four volunteers every Saturday to help set up, give away meals and then clean up. The meals are given away starting at 11 a.m. at Damascus Gate restaurant, 807 W. Mitchell St. Volunteers can message Hagen through the Hungry Hearts Facebook page or by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations can be made online through the “Donate” button at tippechurch.org, or checks can be written out to Tippecanoe Church and mailed to the church at 125 W. Saveland Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53207, with attention to DI Hungry Hearts Community Meals. Marking HH after the donor’s name online or in the memo field of the check will ensure it’s designated for Hungry Hearts.
“Every penny is tax deductible,” Hagen said. “It goes directly to the cost of meals.” Tippecanoe Church’s Divine Intervention ministry, of which Hungry Hearts is an outgrowth, takes care of administrative costs.
Contact dining critic Carol Deptolla at email@example.com or (414) 224-2841, or through the Journal Sentinel Food & Home page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @mkediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.