Central City Churches: Fighting Food Insecurity in the 53208 Zip Code
by Sean Murphy
Since Central City Churches was established in the 1970s, the organization has remained dedicated to each neighbor in the community who comes to them in need of assistance. I spoke with Alicia Ellis, the Program Director of Central City Churches Outreach Ministry, about Marquette and Central City Churches’ neighborhood, the important impact food has on our daily lives, and how Central City Churches will continue to serve our neighbors who come to them in need.
Central City Churches is located at 30th street and West Wisconsin Avenue, in the 53208 zip code area. 53208 is one of the poorest zip codes in Milwaukee. According to the 2010 US Census, the median household income of residents in the 53208 zip code was $32,160. Alicia explained that people who live in the 53208 are stereotyped as either “drug dealers” or as people who simply “do not work.” Alicia wants every service learner who comes to Central City Churches to see that this stereotype as blatantly false, and “just like every neighborhood that has its struggles, the 53208 zip code has people who are as normal as the next person.” Alicia stressed how valuable it is for students, no matter what career or profession they will be entering, to learn and see that just because someone lives in an area that has a stereotype it does not mean a person fits that stereotype.
The food pantry at Central City Churches serves 40-60 families a day Monday through Thursday. In the 53208 zip code there is no local grocery store where fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are readily available at an affordable price. Hunger Task Force, a non-profit organization headquarter in Milwaukee dedicated to eliminating hunger in our neighborhood, has partnered with Central City Churches to advocate against food insecurity and to distribute food to our neighbors in need, free of charge.
There is a difference between eating the same meal, day after day, year after year, and eating a meal that leaves you feeling full and nourished. When a person eats the same meals day after day because it is all that is available to them, the food does not reinvigorate them and raise their sprits. As Marquette students serve at Central City Churches, Alicia hopes they recognize the impact food has on a person. Food has the power to raise a person’s spirit, fill them with energy, and satisfy their hunger. In many ways, food represents freedom. Charity is giving a person food that simply fills their stomach; Justice is making sure all people have the ability to choose from a variety of healthy, nutritious, and delicious meal that truly satisfy their hunger.
Currently Milwaukee is an urban food desert. There are many liquor, convenience, and fast food stores in our neighborhood; however, residents do not have access to nutritional and healthy foods at affordable prices. Alicia and Central City Churches want to change this. In the future, Central City Churches hopes to get neighbors involved in the community garden found on 28th & Wisconsin Ave. at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, one of the 8 churches that make up the Central City Churches, Inc. Being involved the community garden will help our neighbors have a healthy, nourishing diet and is a crucial first step in combating the unjust food desert in our community. In addition, Alicia hopes to revolutionize Central City’s Pantry by making it more like a grocery store, where neighbors would walk through the pantry and select the foods they would like, instead of being given a bag of pre-chosen foods that may not fit their dietary needs. Central City Churches has devoted itself to fighting injustice in the community. They strive to satisfy people’s hunger by offering meals that add variety and nourishment to their diet; however, this is not an easy task. Central City Churches makes a difference in the lives of everyone they serve each and every day. They provide resources to our neighbors in every way they can, and give them a safe place where no questions will be asked and no judgments will be made. Central City Churches makes a positive impact on our neighborhood every day they open their doors, and they will continue to fight food insecurity in the food desert surrounding our neighborhood. Thank you for all that you do, Central City Churches; we are proud to have partnered with you for over a decade!