MILWAUKEE - St. Ben's Meal Hall typically serves a free meal to hundreds on Thanksgiving Day. Amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the tradition continued but looked very different.
Don Rytman was alone in the kitchen at St. Ben's and the meal hall was empty -- closed since March due to COVID-19 -- making this Thanksgiving very different.
"The amount of volunteers that are here, so many hands come in, it's unbelievable," said Don Rytman, kitchen manager at St. Ben’s.
Traditionally, hundreds of guests would come to enjoy a hot holiday meal.
"A lot of guests are really happy, and pleased and very thankful that they have a place to come to," said Rytman.
In 2020, Rytman prepared meals for delivery. St. Ben's partnered with Heartland Housing and Cathedral Center. More than 300 people in need got a meal delivered to them from St. Ben's.
Typically, the room would be filled with people who don't just come in for a delicious meal, but also, for a sense of connection.
"We fill bellies here, but we also feed souls," said Brother Robert Wotypka OFM Cap., ministry director for Capuchin Community Services.
Wotypka encouraged people to reach out to those who are alone.
Brother Robert Wotypka
"Look out for each other," he said. "I really do believe the isolation and lack of connection, inability for people to sit across the table and get to know each other is causing pain in the community."
St. Ben's staff was thankful to relieve some of the pain with the warmth of a Thanksgiving meal.
"It is going to mean a lot to them," said Rytman.
St. Ben's officials said they're working on modifications to open safely but that it might be awhile. In the meantime, St. Ben's is delivering meals to residents who live in Heartland on weeknights.