Twice a year, volunteers at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior transform Sunday school classrooms into comfortable living spaces and host three to four local families struggling with homelessness.
The families rotate church hosts on a weekly basis, as part of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a consortium of area churches that work cooperatively to give families a place to stay while they look for permanent housing.
“You can look at this a couple of different ways. It’s a difficult life, transitioning a week a time; the alternative might be night-to-night in a shelter or on the street,” says Chris Anderson, director of adult faith formation and community outreach at Mount Calvary, who coordinates this effort as part of the church’s outreach.
The shelter program is called Families Moving Forward, and it offers hospitality, emergency shelter and a path to a home with support and stability. It has been in operation 20 years and has programs in Hennepin and Carver counties. “The success rate is outstanding in terms of the number of families who get out of the program and get their own housing,” Anderson says. “It’s really making a difference long term for these families.”
According to Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, in 2017, 75 families were served in the program and 56 of them successfully moved into their own home within two months. The families do not have expenses during their time in the program and are able to save everything they make from their work for a down payment for their own housing.
“We pull everything out of the rooms and transform them into living spaces, with the idea of trying to make them as homey and comfortable as possible,” explains Anderson, who says touches like handmade quilts by the church’s quilting group and age-appropriate gift bags welcome parents and their children. “We want them to feel like they are one of our Mount Calvary family, and we work really hard to make that happen.”
“During the week, it takes anywhere from 125 to 150 volunteers," says Anderson. The congregation raises money and donations to support the effort, and local businesses Joey Nova’s, Maynard’s, Mandarin Yang and Kowalski’s Market have helped with food and donations for a meal prepared and served by volunteers each night. One of the church groups is a barbecue club called Holy Smoke, and they also donate a meal.
“We have even had families who were participants in the program come back and volunteer to help others in the program,” says Anderson.
In addition to providing a safe place to sleep and a warm meal, volunteers help watch children, do arts and crafts, shoot hoops in the gym or just relax and get to know each other. “It’s a neat community program. We run it out of Mount Calvary, but I am trying to connect other community groups around it, too, to get some momentum for it,” says Anderson. “Not everyone knows that there is a homelessness problem in this area. I think we need to help people understand that, too, so that they can get behind the effort and help these families.”
Mount Calvary Lutheran Church
301 County Road 19, Excelsior
Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative
2610 University Ave. W. Suite 100, St. Paul