Open Door Cafe serves free hot meals and hope inside downtown Milwaukee church

NOW: Open Door Cafe serves free hot meals and hope inside downtown Milwaukee church

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Built in the 1840’s, Milwaukee’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist still stands tall above the downtown area.

But it’s the people inside who stand even taller.

Idalia Nieves has worked as a chef for the church’s Open Door Cafe for years.

“My flavor is a lot of seasoning, a lot of cilantro,” Nieves told CBS 58’s Ellie Nakamoto-White. “I am from the Caribbean, so it’s a lot of flavors in it, garlic, onions.”

Every week, Nieves and the rest of her team of volunteers whip up delicious hot lunches to serve hundreds in need.

“Not only is it giving a meal for their stomach, it’s also a place where they’re welcome,” Nieves said.

The Open Door Cafe is Milwaukee’s only free meal program providing hot and bagged lunches.

85% of the ingredients used come from Hunger Task Force.

Last year, the cafe served more than 25,000 meals — a “record number” Nieves said she wants to see go down.

“I am a bridge for them to have something that’s a basic need in life,” Nieves said. “[That number] means there’s many more things we have to do to help them outside of the lunchroom.”

For Tracy Flood, who began volunteering last June, it’s a chance to dish up not only food but hope.

“Everybody has a story, and we never know what those stories are or what brings people to come for a meal,” Flood said. “Every time I leave I’m just smiling, whether it’s because I’ve met somebody new who’s come through the line or just interacted with the wonderful people who work here.”

Flood said for the guests who come in, there are no questions asked.

“Everybody just deserves to be treated with respect and compassion,” Flood said. “Many of these people they have jobs, they have families, but everybody is just trying to make ends meet.”

Pastor Tim Kritzke agreed, adding that the guests are “real people.”

“We all know that there’s any number of reasons for homelessness and hunger, they’re as complex as the very individuals who are struggling with them,” Kritzke said. “We do have some very difficult problems to overcome, so there’s an immediate gratification in terms of the food, but hopefully setting in place the real call we all have to deal with the issues that cause all of this in the first place.”

When CBS 58 visited, Nieves and the team had just prepared pepper steak or chicken, rice, fruit cups, and peanut butter brownies.

While the menu consistently rotates, one thing remains constant — the biggest ingredient in this kitchen is love.

“We want to have a community of safety and acceptance,” Kritzke said. “And in the middle of everybody’s experiences in life to know that the door is always open, hence the Open Door Cafe.”

To view the cafe’s hours or to volunteer, click here.

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