Doing good for others is a way of life in the Twin Cities

Image by Jay Larson/People Serving People

By Nora Allen

Minnesotans are known for a lot of things. Out-of-towners talk of the 10,000-some lakes we enjoy, delicious hot dishes (not casseroles), and our stalwart spirits in the dead of winter. Among the qualities that make the Twin Cities a wonderful place to call home is our commitment to serving others. You’ve probably heard the saying “Minnesota nice.” It’s easy to see how the phrase was coined when you consider our communities’ dedication to volunteering and philanthropy.

This dedication can be summed up by one daylong event that happens every year. Since 2009 Minnesotans have been participating in Give to the Max Day, a 24-hour fundraising extravaganza that makes giving easy, fun and efficient. A record-breaking number of donors—62,000 to be exact—raised over $18 million for 5,700 nonprofits, schools and other charitable organizations throughout the state in 2015.

Give to the Max Day is a program of GiveMN, which launched in 2009 to simplify giving in the state of Minnesota. Today, Give to the Max Day sets the bar for other fundraising programs in the country. “Minnesotans can be proud that Give to the Max Day was the first of its kind in the country,” GiveMN Marketing and Communications Manager Tom Zimmerman says. “The giving day is a national leader in terms of the number of donors and the number of benefiting nonprofits and schools.”

Participation in Give to the Max Day is just one example of Minnesotans’ dedication to philanthropy, which goes well beyond a 24-hour period. Out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., we ranked fourth for number of volunteers in a 2014 study published by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Additionally, we carved out a top 10 spot on WalletHub’s list of the most charitable states in 2015. Whether it is charitable giving, volunteering at a local food shelf or shelter, or simply doing a neighborly favor, Minnesotans embody the spirit of giving. After all, Minnesota nice isn’t just a saying; it’s a way of life.

In the Twin Cities alone there are myriad ways to get involved in giving. Greater Twin Cities United Way serves the community by creating stability and helping to alleviate poverty. The organization celebrated its centennial in 2015 with a promise to further invest time and resources in the Twin Cities. The 2015 Centennial Campaign established four major volunteer projects across the Twin Cities. More than 100,000 volunteers stepped up to help with the inaugural projects, which helped students succeed in school, sorted 70,000 pounds of donated clothing, refurbished a child development center in Minneapolis, and planted four community gardens.

The Arc Greater Twin Cities, a partner of United Way, is a nonprofit that protects and advocates for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They help with everything from housing and health care to building relationships and self-advocacy. Arc has five thrift stores throughout the Twin Cities where you can donate gently used clothing and household goods, or stop in to purchase some of the discounted treasures. Proceeds from the stores go directly to supporting Arc’s services—every year the stores raise $1 million to support this cause.

Photo courtesy of the Jeremiah Program

The Twin Cities are also home to the region’s largest and most comprehensive family-focused homeless shelter. Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, People Serving People is a facility that serves those experiencing homelessness in a number of ways. With 99 emergency shelter rooms and 10 two-bedroom supportive apartments they are able to serve thousands of individuals every year. Child services, tutoring, computer mentoring, health services, housing and job search help are just a handful of the ways the shelter extends a helping hand to get people back on their feet. In 2015 5,000 volunteers donated over 30,000 hours of their time to support the mission of People Serving People, which is to stabilize families in the midst of crisis.

Another shelter aimed at supporting at-risk youth in the Twin Cities is YouthLink. The nonprofit helps young people between the ages of 16 and 23 achieve stability in all areas of their lives. The YouthLink Youth Opportunity Center is a collaborative approach to helping young people get out of homelessness. The program provides housing, health and wellness, crisis, and education and employment services for a holistic solution to homelessness and instability. Nearly 2,000 youth received these services in 2014, and 80 percent of them left the program to move into safe and affordable housing they could sustain on their own. YouthLink believes that empowering young people doesn’t just impact that particular age group; the entire community benefits when its youth are educated, stable and set on a path toward success.

A group that impacts the community by investing in families is Jeremiah Program, which empowers single mothers and helps them earn a college education. Founded in 1993 in Minneapolis, Jeremiah Program now has two campuses that offer affordable, safe housing for single mothers and their children. Volunteers serve in an array of capacities, helping with childcare while moms are at school and work, serving meals, planning events and tutoring residents in their coursework. The mission of Jeremiah Program is to help families move from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time.

No matter what the cause, the spirit of giving runs deep in Minnesotans. And in the Twin Cities alone we have more than 1,000 organizations that welcome our desire to give back, offering countless opportunities to donate and volunteer.

My Take: Mark Crea
Executive Director/CEO, Feed My Starving Children

A large part of Mark Crea’s career has been spent in the nonprofit world. After leading the Hazelden Foundation’s sales and marketing department for 17 years he moved into his role at Feed My Starving Children in 2004. Today the nonprofit has seven sites throughout the country with three of them in the Twin Cities metro. The continued growth of Feed My Starving Children has seen major increases in the number of meals packed, volunteer hours and overall revenue. That means more children around the globe are fed—the central mission of Feed My Starving Children.

“In Feed My Starving Children’s history we have distributed 1.3 billion meals around the globe. But how much of that food really gets to the tummies of these kids? We track all of this and we select all our partners very carefully, so we know that 99.6 percent of those meals make it. That’s a number that really isn’t explainable.

Photo courtesy of Feed My Starving Children

“When I started in 2004 there were 20,000 volunteers per year. In 2015 we had over 1 million volunteers. We are now one of the largest volunteer organizations in the United States.

“Minnesota gets high marks for volunteerism. Why else would we do something that’s going to help somebody on the other side of the world? We are passionate about supporting and helping causes and others that need help.”

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