Of all the accomplishments I’ve had in my life (children excluded), there is none more important, more meaningful to me than the two years I spent quietly volunteering in a most amazing, yet equally unassuming warehouse in Bloomington.
In the spring and summer months it was sweltering. I mean HOT. Lugging donated furniture and other household goods from the backs of countless vehicles to the aisles and shelves where they would sit…but not for long, only to be filled by another couch, loveseat or dresser. The average inventory turn at this warehouse would make even the world’s largest manufacturers melt in envy. This warehouse, I came to quickly learn, completely outfits 12 complete family-of-four households a day. A DAY. That’s everything from eating and cooking utensils to bedding, furniture, lights and artwork.
In the winter, the cold never bothered us—save for our hands—because the pace was equally brisk: Taking in one man’s junk, and sending it back out as another’s home-making treasure.
The warehouse is one of two owned and operated by Bridging, the largest furniture bank in North America. Furniture bank, you may rightly ask? Yes, a furniture bank—one that has furnished more than 80,000 homes for families transitioning out of homelessness or poverty with donated goods, truly “bridging” the gap between those who have and those who need.
A former businessman and entrepreneur, Fran Heitzman was struck with the idea for Bridging when he was working as a custodian at a local church and asked if he could find a new owner for a used crib. Now, more than three decades later, Bridging is still going strong, and so is Fran, at the age of 92.
Fran happens to be the father-in-law of a dear friend of mine, and it was at one of their family gatherings that I heard him speak of Bridging for the first time. He was explaining the “why” behind the amazing organization that he created.
“I look at the little kids I see every day in our waiting rooms and think, ‘That’s tomorrow’s society? And we allow them to sleep on their coats on the floor? We have to do better than that.’ When good people get together, good things happen—and that happens every day at Bridging.”
The waiting room that he was referring to, I later came to find out, was Bridging’s. It serves as the ultimate welcome mat for families in need…Families who can see a glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel: These families, you see, have made it over the first enormous hurdle and have secured a “home,” a safe place to live, but they have no means whatsoever to fill it with the most basic of necessities let alone all that Bridging freely gives them.
I share this story not as a plea for money, but as a plea for time. Your time. When you move to Minneapolis, St. Paul or any of the many surrounding suburbs, you will find communities of big-hearted individuals, like Fran and others, who live and breath the “Minnesota Nice” concept you’ve no doubt heard so much about.
Indeed, it should be nice to know you’re moving to an area with caring, responsible neighbors—and there are plenty of places for all of us to give back. Our dedication to volunteering and philanthropy is truly off the charts, and when you move here we want you to be a part of it. Out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., we ranked second for number of volunteers, with nearly 40 percent of all Minnesotans volunteering formally, according to a 2016 study published by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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 take philanthropy to heart.
A simple Google search will provide you with a laundry list of places to volunteer your time. Or you can start by visiting HandsOn Twin Cities, an online portal for available opportunities scattered around our region. Building on 95 years of experience as the nation’s first volunteer center, HandsOn Twin Cities is the central source for volunteerism in the Twin Cities.
But because volunteering is, well, personal, usually aimed at causes that are near and dear to your heart, I took a brief survey of my coworkers here at Greenspring Media (owner of Minnesota Monthly and several other publications) in our downtown Minneapolis office to share some of our favorites. Join one of us, and volunteer at any of these amazing places after you settle in. You won’t be disappointed.
Volunteer Organizations in the Twin Cities
These organizations are just a sampling of the great non-profit organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. If you would like to be included in our volunteer organizations list please email the Minnesota Monthly team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Art Buddies
- American Indian OIC
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Bolder Options
- Daffodil Days
- Feed My Starving Children
- Golden Valley Animal Humane Society
- Helping Paws
- Open Arms
- People Serving People
- The Sheridan Story
- Vision Loss Resources
Since 1994, Art Buddies has paired thousands of underprivileged children with thousands of creative adults, helping each child realize their creative potential and discover that creativity can be a path to a successful future. Art Buddies has partner schools that are identified based on need, adequate space and scheduling. The students mostly come from low-income families and range in age from 8 to 11. They’re an ethnically diverse group, and some speak English as a second language. Art Buddies mentors are creative professionals (like our very own Digital Design Manager Stuart Wainstock), as well as students working in all sorts of exciting fields, including advertising, graphic design, commercial photography, illustration, and architecture. Because of their talent and experience, they’re uniquely qualified to help kids express themselves creatively. Mentors—who work one-on-one with their child, which is so important and so rare for disadvantaged kids—introduce kids to a broad range of creative careers, and show them that it’s possible to make a good living by being creative.
Get Involved: artbuddies.org
American Indian OIC
Founded in 1979, the mission of the American Indian OIC is to empower American Indians to pursue career opportunities by providing individualized education, training, and employment services in a culturally rich environment. The organization was founded primarily as a practical resource to respond to the considerable education and employment disparities faced by American Indians living in and around South Minneapolis. In the years since its founding, the AIOIC has built a workforce of over 20,000 people from the entire Twin City area and tribal nations across the country and is a nationally recognized leader in the workforce development field. Our newest intern, Jacarri Roberson, shares her time helping students prepare for and obtain their GED.
Get Involved: aioic.org
Big Brothers Big Sisters
BBBS is just one of United Way’s supported community ventures. For more than 90 years BBBS of the Greater Twin Cities has enriched the lives of young people by matching them up with caring adults for long-term, one-on-one relationships that help “littles” build self-esteem and improve their school performance by providing them with an adult they can trust and who makes them feel special. Throughout all of our departments here at Greenspring, we have many big “siblings.”
Get Involved: bigstwincities.org
This organization’s tagline says it all,” Teaching youth to succeed in ALL of life’s races.” Founded in 1993 as a result of a Minneapolis Jaycees Charitable Foundation taskforce conducting a needs assessment of high-risk youth in Minneapolis, Bolder Options is an innovative organization focused on healthy youth development. Comprehensive one-on-one mentoring, wellness activities and leadership opportunities coordinate family, community, school and county resources in a united effort to support youth who are at-risk for dropping out of school or becoming involved in delinquent or unhealthy behaviors. Bolder Options engages youth and mentors in goal setting, physical activity, tutoring and community involvement to build confidence, maximize potential, and encourage healthy life skills. The girlfriend of one of our art directors works here and introduced us to this remarkable place. He, of course, volunteers there.
Get Involved: bolderoptions.org
For four days in March (usually around the first full week of the month) you can purchase bright yellow daffodils throughout the Minneapolis skyway systems and in various downtown buildings like the IDS. The bright, yellow daffodil is the American Cancer Society’s symbol of hope in the fight against cancer. Because the American Cancer Society’s daffodils are fresh and colorful, Daffodil Days has become a successful fundraiser in the upper Midwest, where winters can be long and unpredictable, and a sign of spring is always welcome. One of our editors on our culinary magazines donates her time each spring, helping to sell these beauties.
Get Involved: crowdrise.com/acsdaffodildays-midwest
Feed My Starving Children
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Greenspring team member who hasn’t volunteered at one of three Feed My Starving Children facilities around the Twin Cities. Founded in 1987, FMSC is a Christian non-profit that provides nutritionally complete meals specifically formulated for malnourished children around the world. A popular volunteer opportunity for area schools, sports teams, corporations, churches and individuals, FMSC’s success is evident in not only the number of meals packed (volunteers work in team stations with each person either adding a scoop of specially formulated ingredients to an individual “pack,” weighing the filled packs, working the bag sealing station, or packing and labeling the boxes) and children fed, but in the number of volunteers it has attracted since its humble beginnings. In 2004, 20,000 people volunteered. In 2015, more than 1 million did. Enough said…it’s a truly amazing operation.
Get Involved: fmsc.org
Golden Valley Animal Humane Society
Like its name implies, this facility specializes in wayward, lost or neglected animals. And the “Golden Valley” not only refers to the area just southwest of Minneapolis, but also to the incredible state-of-the-art facility here—one of the largest and truly the best in the region. Volunteers here are serious about their calling—signing on to a minimum one-year commitment that consists of a two-four hour shift every other week. With the amount of coworkers I have volunteering here either as in-shelter support workers or in-home foster care providers, it’s evident we’re a bunch of animal lovers.
Get Involved: animalhumanesociety.org
Helping Paws began in 1985 as a pilot project of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Human-Animal Relationships and Environment and became an independent nonprofit in 1988. Early experiences showed that for successful service dog training, Helping Paws needed to start with puppies to begin shaping behaviors early in each dog’s life. The first dog to complete such training and be placed was Alpha, a Golden Retriever who went on to serve his partner for many years. Based in the suburb of Hopkins, Helping Paws’ headquarters offers a large indoor fully accessible training center for classes and team training. From foster home training to assisting with fundraising events and even training sessions, volunteer opportunities abound with and without four-legged contact. Kelly Benson, one of our Interactive Producers who works with Stuart, swears by the experience volunteering with the “dogs in blue coats” brings
Get Involved: helpingpaws.org
It’s a simple notion: People who are sick should not be without food. Yet every day people in our community with life-threatening illnesses find themselves unable to shop or cook—and, often, without the support network to help. That’s where Open Arms of Minnesota comes in—the volunteers at this nonprofit cook and deliver free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities. Open Arms believes that food is medicine, so much so that with the help of over 6,000 volunteers, the nonprofit will cook and deliver more than 600,000 delicious meals this year to people living with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and ALS, as well as their caregivers and dependents. Founded in 1986, this nonprofit holds a special place in our corporate heart—we partner with them on many charitable events and several of us volunteer with there.
Get Involved: openarmsmn.org
People Serving People
Located in downtown Minneapolis, PSP is the region’s largest and most comprehensive family focused homeless shelter. The facility serves those experiencing homelessness in a number of ways. With 99 emergency shelter rooms and 10 two-bedroom 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 hand to help people get back on their feet. In 2016, 5,688 volunteers—many from Greenspring—donated 29,120 hours of their time to support the mission of PSP, which is to stabilize families in the midst of crisis.
Get Involved: peopleservingpeople.org
Its acronym is its definition: People Responding In Social Ministry. And that’s what some of my coworkers who live in the suburbs of Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, New Hope, Crystal and Plymouth, do. They volunteer in social ministry aimed at providing 5,000+ low-income children, adults and seniors secure the basic needs of food, clothing and housing. Some of the volunteers work in PRISM’s Marketplace Food Shelf sorting donations and stocking the shelves, in the Shop for Change Thrift Shop, in children’s programs such as organizing school supplies or holiday gift distribution, and fundraising events.
Get Involved: prismmpls.org
The Sheridan Story
Many of us here at visit-twincities.com have children so we understand and oftentimes see children in our own children’s schools who don’t have enough to eat. In fact, over 200,000 children in the state of Minnesota live in food insecurity and do not always know if they will receive their next meal. The Sheridan Story’s purpose is to respond to this need by closing the weekend food gap between Friday and Monday, when children are not able to participate in the free or reduced meal programs widespread at area schools. Commonly called “backpack programs,” operating in multiple schools, The Sheridan Story’s organizational model is unique in that the nonprofit provides logistical expertise and project execution while leveraging community partnerships for funding and volunteers.
Get Involved: thesheridanstory.com
What started as the Minneapolis Society for the Blind some 103 years ago, today goes by the name Vision Loss Resources. It’s heartening to know that even back then, Minnesota Nice was taking root. Consider: It was early 20th century and a group of volunteers came together just to work alongside people in Minneapolis who were visually impaired or blind. It was a time of change and progress. New opportunities were developed for people with vision loss in an effort to promote greater independence and integration into the larger society. It doesn’t get much better than that, and today, the mission is unchanged. Because the written word is near and dear to our publishing roots, many here at Greenspring love this organization and the volunteer opportunities it affords. Readers, plain and simple, read aloud! Sorting through mail, skimming magazines anything a person dealing with low vision or blindness desires; Shoppers: helping visually impaired clients meander through stores for everything from groceries to gifts; Walkers: these volunteers join a group of regularly scheduled walkers who meet in a public place to get some exercise or go on a walk one-on-one with a client; and Callers: volunteers who simply call to check in with VLR clients to see how they are doing.
Get Involved: visionlossresources.org
This post originally appeared on Visit Twin Cities, which is now a part of Minnesota Monthly.