By Mrinal Gokhale
Out of the many free meal initiatives done on Christmas in United States, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Family Feast is one of the largest in the country.
Now going on 27 years, the Salvation Army has many proud sponsors for this event. A press conference was held on Dec. 8 at the Wisconsin Center to announce the free event.
Major Steven Meritt, Divisional Commander of Wisconsin Center District, introduced sponsored and expressed the importance of this yearly Milwaukee tradition.
“This is the largest Salvation Army feeding event on Christmas Day across the country so that’s something we can be proud of in Milwaukee,” said Meritt. “We continue to keep the family of Chef Gus Kelly in our prayers, who served as lead chef for more than ten years.”
He added that hundreds of volunteers make this lunch possible, and the Salvation Army still needs 369 more volunteers.
Chef Bob Ilk said the cooks this year will serve turkey, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and a few beverages. Anyone is welcome to attend and there are free gifts while supplies last. “Gus Kelly was one of my best friends for more than 46 years,” said Ilk.
“We’ve gotten into trouble together in the past, but we also help each other out and that’s how I got involved.”
Russ Staerkel of the Wisconsin Center said that more than 280,000 people have been served through the Christmas Family Feast over the years, and this year, 8,000 are expected to be served. “We are proud to be even a small part of this great event,” said Staerkel. The Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, one of the sponsors, awarded $50,000 to the Salvation Army in honor of this event at the conference. Kaye Garcia, who spoke on the podium, was photographed with the massive check.
Molina Healthcare also donated $2,000.
“Molina’s mission is to ensure we give quality healthcare for those on government assistance, and it aligns very well with the Salvation Army,” said Babette Honore, Associate Vice President of Community Engagement at Molina Healthcare.
Rayna Andrews of Feeding America of Southeastern Wisconsin said that their organization has been the lead food donor of the feast during the past 10 years.
“We are so happy the Salvation Army has taken the lead on this initiative for many years. For those in the community who don’t have families, this is their family. Feeding America is so proud not only to be supporters of Christmas Family Feast but to have the Salvation Army be our member and consistently serve the community,” said Andrews.
Other speakers were Cecelia Gore of Brewers Community Foundation and Jim Hyland of Roundy’s Supermarkets. The Christmas Family Feast this year will be held on Dec. 25 from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Center Ballroom. Volunteer registration and other information on the event can be found at wisconsincenter.org.