MILWAUKEE — Samantha Vosters, a native of Freedom, believes faith is something to be lived. “We are all called to radically welcome people into our lives,” she said.
Vosters and Vincent Noth, who both work with Milwaukee’s Riverwest Food Pantry, will present “Communities of Generosity: Food, Faith and Fellowship” at the Catholics at the Capitol event on April 30 in Madison. The two will reflect on the pantry’s mission, which includes the corporal works of mercy, attention to the structural causes of poverty and daily prayer.
It is a topic close to Vosters’ heart. After attending St. Nicholas School in Freedom, St. Joseph Middle School and Xavier High School in Appleton, she went to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., graduating in 2010 with a degree in Catholic studies in psychology. She then spent a year in Bronx, N.Y., where she evangelized among the materially poor at a long-term homeless shelter as part of LAMP (Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor) Catholic Ministries.
Moving to Milwaukee, she worked as a barista and a nanny. She started volunteering at the food pantry and never left, she said. Today, she manages the volunteers and mission interns as Team FORM manager.
The food pantry was started 30 years ago to address food insecurity on the north side of Milwaukee. The pantry has grown into more than just a source of food for the community. It now includes the Riverwest Food Pantry Mission House for adults, who live in community for a year, have common prayer and formation, and serve the mission of the pantry.
The pantry is rooted in the basement of the parish, Our Lady of Divine Providence-St. Casmir site. The mission interns participate in the parish and have supported its growth by being present in the neighborhood, she said. This community missionary program is a model for other parishes, and it can renew parish life, she added.
The focus of the April 30 presentation is on how people feed and serve the poor and marginalized.
“We often talk about how food can be an entry point instead of an end point,” Vosters said. “Often, the food pantry model is that food is the end goal. Instead, we understand that food is the entry point to kinship. It is not about those who have much and those who have little. Rather, the approach should be everyone gives and everyone receives.”
Food and nutrition are also topics to teach, she said.
“Meal sites can provide dynamic food experiences as places to learn and talk with each other,” according to Voster. “We train our volunteers around Catholic social thought and justice issues. This is about building relationships.”
To this end, the Riverwest program will soon change from being known as a pantry. “Instead, this new model is a community food center, where people come for food. But there is so much more going on than just food distribution. There are cooking classes, mentoring, farming and overall community support,” she said.
“We emphasize an attitude of kinship, and to achieve that we need things to change. We need contemplation; we need a relationship with the Lord,” added Vosters. “This needs to come through a relationship with each other. Everyone (volunteers, employees, interns and recipients) is a learner in this environment.”
Vosters said her passion for this work stems from the way she experiences the Lord intensely through people, especially the materially poor and the marginalized, and she does this through service. She wants to identify with and reach out to people who struggle.
“In grade school, I remember watching Mother Teresa and reading about Dorothy Day. I thought, ‘Why can’t I have a house of hospitality?’” she recalled.
She also is inspired by Catherine Doherty, who was a friend of Dorothy Day, and Venerable Madeleine Delbrel, who is seen as the French Dorothy Day.
Vosters eventually decided to make a private vow of chastity and feels she can better serve God and others as a member of the secular society. “It is the best way for me to live out my baptism. That is something we all do in different ways,” she said.