The new food incubator in Sherman Park celebrates its official opening, and a new $50,000 investment in UpStart’s Emergency Meals Program from Ascension Wisconsin
When Prism Economic Development Corporation (“Prism EDC”) targeted spring for the opening of Milwaukee’s first 24/7 commercial kitchen and business incubator, 4325 W Fond du Lac Ave., in Sherman Park, they didn’t foresee the COVID-19 pandemic and its drastic impact on the community. Kitchen leaders quickly shifted operations, converting the kitchen into a major meal production center to meet the needs of home-bound individuals in the community who are facing food insecurity.
A project of Prism EDC, UpStart Kitchen is an incubator for entrepreneurs who want to grow or start their food-oriented business. The kitchen offers affordable, state-of-the-art, commercial kitchen space, including a large walk-in freezer and cooler for food storage, but also provides supportive services, training, mentoring and community connections to help those businesses succeed.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, Upstart entrepreneurs, food distribution partners, dignitaries and investors gathered to celebrate the official opening of the new food incubator which has already helped 20 entrepreneurs earn licenses from the City of Milwaukee Health Department, which is required to use the kitchen. Another 20 entrepreneurs are at various stages of approval, and 75 are on a waiting list. The kitchen can accommodate up to 40 entrepreneurs due to its 24-hour daily access.
“UpStart Kitchen is a work of faith. As Christians we believe our mission must go beyond a few hours on Sunday and extend to transform the community, the marketplace and impact our work lives,” said Bishop Harvey, who serves as Prism EDC’s president and CEO.
After the 2016 civil disturbances in Sherman Park, church leaders and Bishop Harvey, Parklawn’s Senior Pastor at the time, saw firsthand the community’s frustration with high unemployment among African American males and a lack of living wage job opportunities. They saw would-be entrepreneurs with big dreams lacking the resources, networking opportunities and the support systems that are necessary for getting a business off the ground.
In 2017, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) awarded Prism Economic Development Corporation a $50,000 Capacity Building Grant to develop a comprehensive business plan to operate a shared commercial kitchen, provide a rental space, and create a healthier eco-system in Sherman Park for current and aspiring micro-level neighborhood-based food entrepreneurs. With a plan and budget prepared, Prism launched a successful fundraising campaign to renovate the building, located at 4325 West Fond du Lac Ave., and build a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen.
“I’m excited to see UpStart Kitchen up and running,” Secretary and CEO, WEDC, Missy Hughes said. “This project has been a priority for WEDC because it fulfills one of our most important goals: making sure all of Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs have the resources to thrive in every part of our state.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Kitchen Manager, Pat Jones, rallied the entrepreneurs and launched the UpStart Kitchen Emergency Meals program serving 2,500 meals in April and ramping up to 7,000 meals per month since then. To date, UpStart Kitchen has distributed over 25,000 meals through partners including Milwaukee County’s Housing First program, Just One More Ministry, Repairers of the Breach, Hope Street Ministries and Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church on 53rd and Locust.
At Tuesday’s event Ascension Wisconsin, announced a $50,000 investment in the program to provide more than 6,000 meals per month through the end of the year, a welcomed blessing for the program which had cobbled together small donations for the first few months.
“Food insecurity has spiked to an unprecedented level during the pandemic and the lack of access to nutritious food is taking a toll on the health of many in our community,” said Reggie Newson, vice president of Government and Community Services and Chief Advocacy Officer, Ascension Wisconsin. “As we look for ways to serve the most vulnerable populations affected by the coronavirus crisis, we are grateful for the opportunity to support UpStart Kitchen entrepreneurs and work together with innovation and compassion to improve the health of our community.”
Ascension Wisconsin’s contribution will subsidize UpStart Kitchen and provide diabetic-friendly and healthy meals for vulnerable residents with limited access to food during COVID-19. The donation will fund 6,000 meals per month through the end of the year. One-hundred meals will be distributed each week through the Ascension Ebenezer Health Resource Center to some of Ascension Wisconsin’s patients including vulnerable senior citizens, high-risk moms-to-be and high-risk diabetic patients.
UpStart Kitchen has attracted an impressive array of additional investors and partners including Bader Philanthropies, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, We Raise Foundation, Parklawn Assembly of God, Elmbrook Church, Chris Abele, and Paul and Betsy Keppeler, who attended the opening.
About Ascension Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, Ascension operates 24 hospital campuses, more than 100 related healthcare facilities and employs more than 1,300 primary and specialty care clinicians from Racine to Eagle River. Serving Wisconsin since 1848, Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. Ascension is one of the leading non-profit and Catholic health systems in the U.S., operating 2,600 sites of care – including 150 hospitals and more than 50 senior living facilities – in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Visit www.ascension.org.
About Prism Economic Development Corporation (“Prism”)
Prism is a 501C3 tax-exempt corporation that exists to provide the Sherman Park Community access to resources that result in sustained economic growth and human flourishing. www.prismedc.org
About Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Visit www.wedc.org or follow WEDC on Twitter @WEDCNews to learn more.