Mondays and Tuesdays can be the most grueling start of the week but there is nothing like the feeling of being greeted on Wednesdays to a home-cooked meal hosted by University Christian Ministries.
Located directly across the street from the UWM Union terrace, students from different backgrounds and religious beliefs can come together from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. to socialize, meet new people and overall enjoy a hot meal. Student attendance is rising.
“I like the food here,” Mike Rozmenoski, a sophomore, said. “It’s always different.”
Tom Beck, a sophomore, looks forwards to Wednesdays while Brandon Bell, sophomore, referred to the food as a “nice home cooked meal.”
UCM, which has been established for 60 years as an outreach program, has a history of creating an atmosphere similar to a loving home. The building was purchased in 1950 by the UWM Board of Directors and was given to the campus ministry in 1954 under its original name, the Wesley Foundation. The building was a gift from a church member and has been supported by from different denominational churches since the 1960s.
In 2004, Executive Director and Campus Minister Alan McCalister spoke with the previous campus minister to decide what to do with the building and the types of activities that would attract students. At the time, there were only two options McCalister and the camp minister considered to bring attention to the building and that was food or music. In the end, events focused on food was the final decision and the first event was called Hot Dog Day.
McCalister, UCM interns and volunteers from various churches have worked together to form more diverse programs to help students.
“We started out with 10 or 15 students,” McCalister said. “The record for this year since fall 2013 is 205.”
Volunteers, usually from 21 different churches, take the time to prepare and serve food to anyone who walks through the door. Kim Anderson, now a volunteer for serving food on Wednesdays, started as an intern at UCM. She was a student at Lakeland College when her advisor connected with Reverend McCalister last semester.
As part of her internship, she has taught cooking classes and would bring guest cooks in to help students become more confident and independent with their cooking. When volunteers show up, they are usually greeted by “lots of smiles,” Anderson said. “It’s been total appreciation. We love this place and what it offers to college students. It’s really an awesome experience to serve other people.”
Sarah Marten, a senior at UWM, is the Administrative Assistant and Lunch Bunch Coordinator for UCM and got involved in the program in 2012 where she met McCalister. Her job includes contacting 15 different churches each semester and to work with their coordinators to discuss food quantities. Marten also works for the UWM marketing services department, using social media to spread information about UCM.
As an intern, Marten not only helps set up events but has the opportunity live upstairs in the building for reduced rent. Marten describes the building as a “college campus community with a church based focus,” Marten said. “I can’t imagine a better way to spend my last two years.”
Lunch Bunch Wednesdays have also expanded into a place where students can meet, socialize with new people with different religious beliefs and ultimately create a safe environment which was McCalister’s goal. “We’re trying to create a safe, open environment where students can relax,” McCalister said. “We like people to explore and ask questions.”
UCM has many plans for the future that will help the campus community even further as they have already established regular bible study discussion groups, a food pantry and incorporating cooking classes. An aspect that students are not aware of is just how much they are involved with helping the campus community. Students from several campus departments including Norris, the Dean of Students Office, LGBT Resource Center and the College of Letters and Science can be referred to UCM if they need food assistance.
McCalister calls UCM their “best kept secret” but if more students are looking for a place that reminds them of home when the stress of college work gets overwhelming, UCM is the place to be.