By Sam Woods Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Sep 04, 2022 at 10:01 AM

When Angela Smith, co-founder of Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille, discovered a program last year that pays restaurants to provide food for older people, she decided to participate.

Less than a year later, Smith noted the growing support for her business.

“Seniors call daily inquiring about how to sign up for our meal program,” Smith said.

Launched in 2021, the Milwaukee County Dine Out Program was born from conversations on how to support locally owned restaurants at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gaylyn Reske, senior dining program coordinator for Milwaukee County’s Department of Health and Human Services, remembered a surge in collaborations across sectors to support struggling restaurants, particularly those owned by people of color.

“One of the best things that came out of COVID was all of the community meetings,” said Reske, who added that this led to an unprecedented level of communication.

The goal of the Dine Out program is to get affordable and culturally diverse food to older residents while simultaneously supporting restaurants owned by people of color, women and/or veterans.

Support for the program comes from the federal Older Americans Act, which provides funding to states to feed older residents.

There is a $3 suggested contribution for each meal, but diners can eat for free. All contributions go back into funding the program and ultimately to participating restaurants.

Right now there are three restaurants participating: Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille, Orenda Cafe and Antigua Latin Inspired Kitchen.

How it works

Residents 60 years old or older who’ve registered for the program can order for pickup one to two times per week, depending on the restaurant. Volunteers are available to deliver orders as needed.

There is no income restriction to participate in the program. Participants will not be turned away based on having low or high incomes.

VIA Community Development Corporation, formerly known as Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, is a community development organization working in the Layton Park, Burnham Park and Silver City neighborhoods on the near Southwest Side. It is also an official partner of the Dine Out program along with The Business Council. Both worked to coordinate funding and guide the program during the pilot phase.

Reske said there has been an “overwhelming response” from older diners who choose to use the program over the traditional “congregate” dining model. Reske believes this is because diners have more flexibility on where and when they eat and who they can bring with them.

“Senior dining centers can feel like walking into a high school cafeteria, whereas it’s easier to go out,” Reske said, adding that program participants can eat with their families.

Reske said that funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, should support the program for the next two to three years.

VIA and The Business Council have handed off their responsibilities to the Milwaukee Christian Center, citing the need for an organization with more experience with “direct service” to be involved in coordinating the program as it continues to grow.

For more information

Those interested in signing up for the program can do so by calling (414) 289-6995.

Restaurants owned by people of color, women and/or veterans can inquire about participating in the program by contacting Reske at