RACINE — Kevin Stewart, who founded the daytime drop-in center and free meal program, known as the Hospitality Center, is stepping down from his leadership role with the local ministry.

Stewart said Thursday that he would still be serving in advisory role with the center, which serves the poor, homeless and others in need, but will be handing over the title of director to longtime volunteer Leif Peterson on Dec. 1.

A deacon with the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, Stewart said he will continue to be a resource for the center, which he started in May 2011, but will be moving on to pursue other ministry work for the diocese. His last day at the center, situated at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main St., will be Monday, Nov. 30.

“All is well at the Hospitality Center. It is a thriving ministry and essential services provider. It is in imbedded in the Racine community,” said Stewart as people filed into the center for the day’s meal on Thursday. “My role was to identify need or needs in Racine; respond and develop urban ministry; help to get that ministry imbedded in the community and hand it off to local leadership,” Stewart said. “That is what is happening. This is all by design.”

Shelter for all

Although Stewart will soon be ministering to another community, he still plans to be part of the local conversation about the need for an overnight shelter in the Racine area for all people in need.

The Hospitality Center had strived to be that place for several years. It offered overnight shelter during the last three winter seasons, but after a funding and capacity crisis emerged in January of this year it announced it would not be able provide the service this coming winter.

While the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (HALO), 2000 DeKoven Ave., is able to provide emergency shelter services in some cases, it’s director Kevin Cookman has said the shelter has limited staff and resources to deal with severe mental health or addiction issues.

Those seeking emergency shelter can also apply for hotel vouchers through the Continuum of Care for the City and County of Racine.

The Hospitality Center recently donated close to $39,000 to the program — money that had been donated to the center’s shelter effort — but most see hotel vouchers as an imperfect solution to the problem.

Transition and celebration

Stewart, who lives in Wauwatosa, could not provide details about where his next assignment will be, but said his main focus in the coming weeks will be to celebrate the impact the Hospitality Center has had on Racine and those it has served.

“We will celebrate and give thanks for the Hospitality Center, especially for all who have prayed, worked, toiled, sacrificed, and given to create something very, very special,” he said. “On a personal note I am going to have a good cry.”

In a statement issued Thursday Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, the Rev. Steven A. Miller, explained that deacons in the diocese are called to be “catalysts for ministry” and are assigned to congregations to help them “discern God’s call outside the walls of the Church.”

Once they have helped a congregation to develop ministries to answer such calls, they move on, passing the leadership role on the local community.

On Thursday, several men and women and the center had stories to share of the impact Stewart has had on their lives.

Julianne Poplawski, who identified herself as a recovering crack-cocaine addict, said if it hadn’t been for Stewart and the Hospitality Center, she would still be in jail or doing drugs.

“If it hadn’t been for here I wouldn’t be here,” Poplawski said. “Kevin is going to be dearly, dearly missed.”

The Hospitality Center is open every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. In addition the 11:30 a.m. meal provided during those days, the center provides meals on Monday evenings at 5:30 p.m., and on the fourth Thursday of the month at 5 p.m.

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