Advisers Giving Back: Bernadette Lanser and St. Ben’s Community Meal

It was originally supposed to be a one-time thing, but at this point, Lanser has spent more than 17 years volunteering at St. Ben’s Community Meal program.

Art by Sonia Pulido

Since launching in mid-2019, our Advisers Giving Back profile series has featured more than a dozen dedicated teams and individuals working in the advisory field who are dedicated to giving their time and resources back to the local and global community.

Some common themes have emerged in the series, including a focus on teaching financial literacy to young adults, assisting food banks and homeless outreach services, and providing international poverty relief and microeconomic development grants. Another theme to emerge has been the fact that some families are dedicated to giving back—with brothers inspiring brothers to give, or, in the case of Bernadette Lanser, a financial adviser and chartered retirement planning counselor with UBS in Milwaukee, mothers and daughters coming together to give.

Lanser and her daughter, Erica, have been volunteering their time at the St. Ben’s Community Meal program for nearly 18 years. Their work has included preparing, transporting and personally serving meals to those in need in downtown Milwaukee. Their work at St. Ben’s also extends to raising money for the program through events such as the German Fest Run for the Hungry and working concessions at concerts and sporting events at the local Bradley Center.

“One of the reasons I got involved in the community meals program is that I knew I could serve and I felt it was a calling in my soul,” Lanser recalls. “Everybody out there matters—even those people who are at a time in their life where they cannot provide for themselves. You go in to serve these people and it is the most humbling experience you can have. At St. Ben’s, you work with people one-on-one, and it’s just such an amazing experience.”

The actual giving events for Lanser and her daughter usually fall on Friday evenings, which she says is “a challenging but rewarding way to end the week.”

“You are definitely tired out on Saturday morning, because you can maybe serve 100 or even 200 people in an evening after working all week,” Lanser says. “Still, it is not hard. When I do this work, I feel like myself. I cherish how everyone is treated with respect, and I get to carry this into my daily life, and into the workplace, too. In the retirement planning world, you just have to treat everyone with the utmost respect and compassion—and with their best interest front and center.”

Lanser says there is, in this sense, a very close connection between her charity work and her job serving 401(k) plan participants.

“You have to come at it with the same dedication and compassion,” she says. “Every person matters, no matter who they are or how much money they have saved.”

Recalling how her giving experience got started, Lanser says there was not much forethought involved.

“My daughter and I felt we should do something to give back, and so we picked St. Ben’s; our faith is very important to us,” she recalls. “We honestly thought it was going to be a one-time thing, but here we are all these years later.”

For the first dozen years, Lanser’s main role was to make food and go collect and deliver other families’ food from across the church community. Now, she is more involved in serving the food.

“We put the food out for the people as they came through, and we would work at a station and distribute the food and help people get their meal,” she explains. “You are speaking with these people and serving them however you can. Sometimes you have whole families come through with their little children, and they are just adorable to take care of. It’s usually about five hours of work all said and told.”

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to the evenings of service for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately, the people in need are still being fed through the program, but the community and companionship aspect is not possible right now,” she says. “It is sad, because the connection is missing. I can’t wait to see everyone again.”