Communities collaborate to fight lead poisoning

A series of stories about Curiosity, Courage, Compassion and Collaboration from around our Greater Milwaukee Synod!

Information in this article was provided in collaboration with Chris Keim, Hephatha’s Parish Nurse, and information from the COLE website.



Hephatha Lutheran Church’s community is rallying together to address the lead poisoning issue that has affected children in the area. In 2016, the census showed that in the neighborhood around Hephatha, which falls into census tract 66, 30% of the children have been affected by lead poisoning. This is an astonishing number. Lead poisoning is a big issue that needs to be addressed with justice, compassion, and community.



However, amidst this valid concern, a proactive and optimistic approach is emerging, creating a brighter future for these families. Community partners collaborate to prevent lead poisoning through cooking classes, non-profits, government lobbying, and more.



Stepping up to the challenge, the Coalition on Lead Emergency (COLE), spearheaded by a group of dedicated parents and grandparents whose children or grandchildren have been affected by lead poisoning, is implementing various strategies to inform families about the dangers of lead poisoning and prevention measures. One such initiative is teaching families about the significance of good nutrition through Cooking with COLE. These cooking classes aim to decrease lead absorption through healthy meals that are high in ingredients found to decrease lead absorption, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin C.



These classes have become a beacon of hope for families in the community. Designed to be inclusive, the whole family is encouraged to participate. Classes are free and open to all.



Adults prepare meals, while children learn valuable lessons about foods that protect them from lead poisoning. The best part? Everyone gets to savor the delicious creations, and families even receive a bag of nutritious food items and the recipe to recreate the meal at home.



“I saw children came in talking about foods that were not healthy for them, and they answered their exit question knowing at least one healthy food that they actually liked, and also parents were able to get parent-to-parent support,” says Shyquetta McElroy, Chair and Organizer of COLE Parents Lead.



Just One More Ministry, a dedicated community partner, generously donated the food for these classes. Additionally, families lacking kitchen tools receive comprehensive kitchen kits courtesy of Holy Cross Lutheran Church. These kits included pots, pans, cooking and eating utensils, and more.



“We are honored to support this important ministry in some small way. Lead poisoning is a major issue that impacts so many. It is important for communities and organizations to collaborate in order to mitigate and eliminate the damage caused by lead,” said Meredith Bedker Musaus, Senior Pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.



The response from the community has been overwhelming, with families eagerly participating in these transformative cooking classes. The first class drew in 16 adults and ten children, while the second class had even greater numbers, with 23 adults and 27 children. Seeing such a high turnout of young ones provides hope.



The long-lasting effects of lead poisoning can severely impact children’s lives, leading to issues with speech, hearing, learning, behavior, and more. Particularly vulnerable are young children whose rapidly developing brains are hindered by lead exposure, impeding crucial cognitive development. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at great risk from lead exposure.



Lead exposure is most prevalent in homes built before 1978. The main culprits for lead poisoning are peeling paint on the interior and exterior of homes and lead paint dust from the opening and closing of windows and doors. Moreover, the soil surrounding homes with lead paint on the exterior can also be contaminated. Other sources of lead poisoning include lead water lines, old plumbing with lead solder, and imported items such as candy, makeup, and pottery from certain countries.



While this issue is preventable, the poor housing quality in the neighborhood surrounding Hephatha and other parts of Milwaukee presents a significant challenge. Lead abatement, the process of removing lead hazards, is not only expensive but also hazardous, requiring continuous attention from homeowners and landlords to maintain safety. Unfortunately, many families remain unaware of this serious hazard. To address this, raising awareness and providing education are vital in helping people navigate living in a lead-affected environment. Simple actions such as regular handwashing, cleaning with disposable wet rags or mops, and removing shoes at the door can significantly reduce the risk.



Additionally, ensuring children are tested for lead exposure at least three times before the age of three is crucial. A study conducted by the USDA in Flint, Michigan, revealed that hungry children absorb lead five times faster than well-fed children, emphasizing the importance of nutrition.



The Coalition on Lead Emergency continues to illuminate lead poisoning dangers and prevention. While the Cooking with COLE cooking class and various other advocacy efforts are making an important impact, there is still a long way to go and a lot more to be done, and it takes courage. You can help by learning about lead poisoning, advocating for stronger legislation to certify property as safe from lead before renting to families, and contacting the Coalition on Lead Poisoning or Hephatha Lutheran Church. We, as a larger community, can help to end this preventable tragedy. Visit or call 414-488-9928.

Do you have a story of curiosity, courage, compassion, or collaboration that you are willing to share? Contact Rev. Matthew Short, Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission, at