Charitable Giving in the Twin Cities

Twin Cities residents embrace the spirit of giving through volunteerism and donations
Greater Twin Cities United Way
Greater Twin Cities United Way

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As the clock ticked down on the 11th annual Give to the Max Day, it became clear: Once again, the generosity of Minnesotans had smashed another donation record, giving almost $21.7 million in 24 hours to more than 5,000 nonprofits and schools across the state in 2019. In Minnesota, the spirit of philanthropy extends well beyond Give to the Max Day, though, and it encompasses far more than money. Residents also donate their time.

It’s no wonder that WalletHub named Minnesota the No. 1 most charitable state in 2019. Our volunteer participation is the second highest in the country, according to the same report, and in 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service estimated that more than a third of all Minnesotans donated a cumulated 155.41 million hours of service. The websites for Volunteer Match, Hands On Twin Cities and Doing Good Together help match people with causes they care about. The Twin Cities are so rich with opportunities to give back that, no matter your interest, you’ll find something that fits.

Some of our biggest nonprofits help provide people with basic essentials. One in 11 households in Minnesota is affected by hunger, and Second Harvest Heartland works to fix that with food donation centers and deliveries, all powered largely by volunteers. Meanwhile, Feed My Starving Children strives to eradicate hunger for children around the world. At three metro locations, food-packing volunteers know the routine: protein, veggie, soy, rice. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year alone, volunteers funded and produced more than 364.5 million meals. Another nonprofit that focuses on food is Open Arms of Minnesota, which prepares and delivers meals to those with life-threatening illnesses and their households.

Bridging, People Serving People and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity (an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International) all focus on housing needs. Besides the volunteer-built homes that Habitat for Humanity is known for, the nonprofit also offers clients home-repair services, affordable mortgages and more. Bridging, on the other hand, focuses on making the house a home by providing furniture, housewares and small appliances at no cost to those in need. Volunteers organize donated products in the Bridging warehouse, assemble furniture and assist clients with their shopping. People Serving People runs the area’s largest family-focused homeless shelter, and opportunities to give back here include shelter operations, childcare and youth programs, meal service, and fundraising.

For art lovers (who also love children), Breanna’s Gift provides volunteer-assisted art and dance programs to children at hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses. Art Buddies has semester-long programs that pair volunteers with children, one-on-one, after school at different Twin Cities elementary schools. With projects meant to help children imagine who they want to be and how they want the world to change, mentors and students create costumes, fill a buddy book, and end the semester with a parade and show.

Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run

Photo by Carly Danek

Other nonprofits such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters, Diverse Daisies, Girls on the Run, Ace in the City and Bolder Options also have opportunities for people to connect with the next generation. Through Bolder Options, mentors meet with mentees for two to four hours per week for a year. Through Girls on the Run, women lead afterschool athletic programs for girls in late elementary and middle school to help build confidence, character and healthy habits. For both youth and adult tutoring opportunities, check out organizations such as your county library system and CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio).

If you have a passion for animals, the Humane Society and Secondhand Hounds offer a variety of in-shelter and in-office roles. Both also have foster opportunities, as do Wags & Whiskers, Underdog Rescue and the Midwest Animal Rescue & Services. For dog fostering with a deadline and a greater purpose, look into Can Do Canines or Helping Paws, which train service dogs.

Other Minnesota nonprofits try to create an equitable world through a multi-pronged approach. Greater Twin Cities United Way works to solve disparity and poverty with housing solutions, food security, youth development, New American orientation, job training and more, helping more than half a million people and raising $68.6 million to better the community in 2018 alone. The network of resources offered by 360 Communities includes shelters, childcare, family resource centers, food shelves, support for sexual assault survivors and court advocates for those in the outer-ring suburbs. Just like Greater Twin Cities United Way, 360 Communities welcomes volunteers across all of their branches.

While the many options might seem overwhelming—and these are only a few—you’ll find that the philanthropic spirit of Minnesotans informs everyday life, too. Apparel brand Askov Finlayson’s business model gives 110 percent back to fight climate change; Still Kickin donates a portion of apparel sales to individuals in financial hardship; Hippy Feet socks support the employment of homeless youth; and Fair Anita accessories support women makers from around the world. In south Minneapolis, All Square is a grilled-cheese eatery that hires people who were recently incarcerated, and if you want to order some sweets, Cookie Cart works with teens to develop life skills in and outside the workforce. To put it plainly, when you join the Twin Cities community, you join a community that cares.

Janssen Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association
Janssen Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association

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Spotlight: Janssen Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association

“We need to stop waiting for someone to save us; we can save ourselves.” These words, spoken by a Hmong American farmer at a national convention for immigrant farmers, galvanized Janssen Hang and his sister Pakou to begin the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) in 2011. After more than 20 years of farming in Minnesota, the Hang family—and their fellow Hmong immigrant farmers—were facing the same issues: lack of land, credit, capital, training, research and opportunities beyond farmers markets.

Now the executive director of HAFA, Janssen oversees programs that teach business management, marketing, crop insurance and more to Hmong farmers. He also manages the HAFA Farm, 155 acres in Dakota County that over 100 Hmong farmers use. The farm is more than just accessible land. It’s also an agricultural research site and an educational tool for students, journalists and elected officials.

“Prior to HAFA, Hmong farmers were only averaging $5,000 per acre, while mainstream mixed-vegetable producers in Minnesota on average were generating $8,000 per acre,” Janssen says. “In just three years with access to the HAFA Farm, adequate farm infrastructure and the HAFA Food Hub, Hmong farmers are now at parity, and some are even surpassing mainstream mixed-vegetable producers.”

Beyond the numbers, Janssen remembers that Hmong farming is typically seen as a family operation. “As HAFA works closely with Hmong elder farmers to increase their capacity, simultaneously we hope to build the capacity of their children and younger generations, to truly spur intergenerational and community wealth,” he says.

Soon, Janssen says he will kick off a capital campaign to buy the HAFA Farm (which is currently leased) and build a facility that further complies with updated food-safety regulations.

For more information, go to hmongfarmers.com.

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