A handwritten note left at the Gathering Place last summer says more than a mouthful about the good that happens daily at 1448 E St.
As I sit at the middle table in the place where people of all forms come together, I exhale because no one is here to judge you … everyone smiles as they meet eye to eye … I sigh … Why can’t the rest of the world come together so peacefully … Maybe it’s the man in the yellow apron they call Mike …
It goes on, but from that “thank you from a full belly,” you can see how important Michael Ryan and the Gathering Place are to the folks who gather there for meals.
Ryan, do-it-all administrator, has a hard time talking about what he does. Emotions often overcome.
“I get so much more back than I could ever give,” he said after a pause.
Ryan is there all day getting ready for the evening meal, held from 5 to 6 p.m. each weeknight. With the help of many volunteers and a part-time cook, he keeps the mission alive, following what Gathering Place founders started in 1982.
That goal was to establish a house that could be turned into a place “where anyone with special concern for the poor, elderly, lonely, homeless, hungry, differently abled and disenfranchised would feel welcome.”
Ryan does just about everything to keep the Gathering Place going, from cooking to cleaning to repair work to fundraising.
“Most days I’m here by 8 or 8:30 cooking,” he said. “My cook will arrive at 1, and everything she needs to put it together is there in the kitchen for her. I’m kind of like a prep cook, and I do the menu planning. It just depends on the day.
“Whatever needs to be done, you do.”
The Gathering Place is part of Community Action and serves more than 31,000 meals annually. Vi See, executive director of Community Action, said it’s all because of Ryan’s hard work.
"Michael's dedication to servicing others is unequaled,” See said. “Each weekday, 120 meals are served at the Gathering Place because Michael brings together community volunteers, ingredients for a home-cooked meal and donated funds necessary to pay the utilities and upkeep of the house that's known as the Gathering Place.
“Serving the hungry is important, but providing the emotional connection with a location that serves as ‘home’ is also important. Michael makes that happen."
And while he does not like to talk about it, Ryan makes it happen despite some serious health challenges. Cancer of the legs and lungs has presented horrible obstacles to his efforts at work and on the running trails the last several years. Actually, his cancer battle started way back in 1998.
Ryan was running 31 miles a week, as recently as 2013, but surgeries and most recently chemo to fight his lung cancer have only slowed him – not stopped him. Not even close.
“It was a game changer last year when they discovered it attacked my femur,” he said. “I’m not going to be happy until I’m running again and doing everything.”
He keeps on going and gathering support for his work. Last year, friends from Rotary Club 14 – devoted Gathering Place supporters – came together to build a slide to help Ryan with food deliveries in the back of the house.
Ryan gets by as best he can, relying on the support of 1,700 or so volunteers. He knows a lot of people are counting on the man in the yellow apron to feed their bellies each night. He just feels lucky to get to do it.
“My job is to allow people to share what I get to do every night,” he said, “which in my mind is quite a privilege.”
To learn more
If you are interested in finding out more about The Gathering Place, or are looking for ways to help, contact Michael Ryan, Gathering Place administrator, at 402-476-7398 or