by Karen Mahoney

A fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul Milwaukee, like many events this year, has been canceled. But unlike some events, an alternative is in place.

The 13th annual Friends of the Poor Walk at St. Vincent de Paul Society of Milwaukee had been scheduled for September, but was canceled because of the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To make up for lost revenue, SVDP is launching a “Masks for Meals” Campaign and asking the community to make a financial gift in exchange for an SVDP face mask, said Rebecca Surges, director of development and communications.

“Annually, this is our signature fundraiser and ‘friendraiser,’ engaging our community of volunteers and supporters,” she said. “We raise $20,000 each year in support of our Meal Program, which served 66,000 meals throughout Milwaukee last year. One hundred percent of proceeds from this campaign support our Meal Program, which has seen a 33-percent increase in nightly meal program guests as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The organization wants to raise at least $20,000 this year, but hopefully more to keep up with the increasing needs in the Milwaukee area.

Normally, the walk would bring together more than 200 volunteers, staff members, donors and community members in support of SVDP’s mission: to eliminate poverty and hunger throughout Milwaukee County. Last year,  SVDP Milwaukee provided $1.8 million in goods and services to the Milwaukee community in the form of a meal program, thrift stores providing affordable household necessities, and home visits led by Society volunteers to neighbors to help them meet their basic needs of food, clothing, new beds, appliances and furniture during difficult times.

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we made the most difficult decision to cancel this year’s Walk. We wanted to ensure the health and safety of our community,” explained Surges.  “Instead, we decided to launch a new Masks for Meals Campaign, raising critical funds.”

Without these funds, the SVDP Meal Program would struggle to meet the increasing needs within the Milwaukee area. Currently, they serve meals six nights per week at two locations on both the northside and southside of Milwaukee.

While SVDP welcomes all donations, as part of the new Masks for Meals campaign, the SVDP Society is mailing SVDP-branded face masks to those making a financial contribution of $100 or more. The face masks are four layers of 100 percent cotton fabric and ear loops.

“Revenue from our Masks for Meals campaign will not only provide food, but also cleaning supplies, to-go containers (to ensure safe serving practices), and protective gear for meal program guests and volunteers,” said Surges. “The coronavirus pandemic has presented our nonprofit with additional funding needs necessary to ensure we are able to safely serve meals during this uncertain time. $20,000 will provide approximately 4,000 meals to those in need. This would carry us through an entire month of serving.”

With the increase in meal program guests, and significant job loss throughout Milwaukee County, Surges expects the number needing assistance to grow over the next several months.

“Revenue from our Masks for Meals campaign will ensure our nonprofit remains a pillar of strength for the community during this unprecedented time,” she said. “While all events have been canceled this year to ensure the safety of our community, our need for financial support continues to grow as the pandemic progresses.”

If You Want to Help

The Masks for Meals campaign is active from now through the end of October.

Gifts can be made via the SVDP Milwaukee website at, or call the development office at 414-462-7837, ext. 103, or via a check (made out to St. Vincent de Paul Society Milwaukee, SVDP Milwaukee, 9601 W. Silver Spring Drive, Milwaukee WI 53225).

When making a donation, please note your gift is made through the “Masks for Meals” Campaign.