Meet Joe and Joyce Ellwanger the Passionate Couple Behind Hunger Task Force

Mar 13, 2024

50 Faces. 50 Stories. 50 Years of Fighting Hunger.

Hunger Task Force is proud to be Milwaukee’s only Free & Local food bank and Wisconsin’s anti-hunger leader. In celebration of our 50th Anniversary, Hunger Task Force is highlighting “50 Faces of Ending Hunger,” honoring the anti-hunger heroes who champion Free & Local and support our mission to end hunger.


In the 1960s, Joe and Joyce Ellwanger were running Cross Lutheran Church in Milwaukee when the Black Panthers asked them to host a breakfast at which they would serve children. Knowing the importance of breakfast for one’s health and wellbeing, the church council worked to establish a free breakfast program for students in Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods.

While they didn’t host the Black Panthers, Joe and Joyce Ellwanger, in addition to their church group at Cross Lutheran Church, worked with community officials, including Mayor Frank Zeidler and Mary Kelly, Registered Dietitian at MPS, to develop and deploy a school breakfast program called the Pilot Breakfast Program in the early 1970s. As a group called the Citizens for Central City School Breakfast, they launched the program in urban Milwaukee schools. With an initial win for 16 elementary schools to begin offering breakfast, over several years, the program expanded to touch every elementary school in the MPS system and, later, every junior high school too.

Achieving their goal of getting a free breakfast program in every MPS school, the Citizens for Central City School Breakfast was asked to further expand their community impact. The USDA asked the group to get food to low-income families in need regardless of if a child in the family attended a Milwaukee Public School.

With a larger scope of services, the Central City School Breakfast group changed its name to the Hunger Task Force to best reflect its community impact.

As Hunger Task Force, the group worked out of Cross Lutheran Church. There, they created office space and a community food pantry that was staffed by a registered nurse from Sinai Samaritan Hospital in downtown Milwaukee.

Today, 50-years later, Hunger Task Force proudly continues to distribute food to hungry children, families and seniors who have fallen upon difficult times. The network has grown to 66 food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Milwaukee that are visited by more than 21,000 people monthly. Keeping with tradition, Hunger Task Force remains the only Free & Local food bank that provides healthy food absolutely free of charge.

Meet the 50 Faces of Ending Hunger!

Click below to discover real people making a difference in the fight against hunger – new faces added each month! As we journey through our 50th year, keep checking back to meet more incredible individuals making a difference.