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Charlie Szlachtowski, in his mom’s arms, got to meet “Sparky” when the birthday patrol stopped by his house on Monday, April 20, to celebrate his second birthday.

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A new chapter: Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners has a new executive director

PLYMOUTH — For the first time in its 40-year history, Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners has a new executive director.

LaDonna Hoy

Greg Hilding joined the Plymouth-based human services nonprofit as the new executive director on April 13, taking over for LaDonna Hoy, the executive director emerita, who will serve as an adviser to the executive director going forward.

“I feel incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and it kind of feels like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” Hilding told Lakeshore Weekly News on April 16, his fourth official day on the job, noting his years in the business world and the time he’s spent volunteering and in community building. “And it seems like all of that has been coming together — a culmination of my experiences, perspectives, knowledge, skills, abilities, etc. — I will need all of that in this current role.”

For Hilding, joining Interfaith as the executive director is about continuing what the organization has been doing well for decades and building on its “very solid foundation.”

That foundation began in the basement of St. Bartholomew Church in Wayzata in October 1979. Hoy and a few others in the local faith communities launched Interfaith Outreach to help address needs in the area. Hoy, with the help of community partners and stakeholders from a variety of sectors, grew Interfaith from the church-based organization to a large-scale operation with 2,000-plus volunteers aimed at meeting the needs of families in the community and helping them move past the crisis that brought them to Interfaith, while also addressing systemic barriers that hold some people back.

“LaDonna has an incredible record of leadership over this 40-year period of time of bringing people together across systems, across sectors, to be able to make an impact — a positive impact — in our communities,” Hilding told the paper. “She is very inspiring. She is very dedicated. And she’s very knowledgeable.”

Hilding said he looks at his role “not so much to step into her shoes, but really to add my voice, my background, my experiences to an already very powerful team … it’s a matter of joining with the team and continuing the journey forward and honoring all of what has led to this point in the history of the organization — 40 years of growth and impact — and really kind of thinking about ‘OK as we look at the next 40 years, what would that look like?’”

He believes Hoy would be the first to say it won’t be identical to the last 40 years. Hilding says the future of Interfaith involves continuing the “well thought-out programs and initiatives that are already in place” and strategically aligning around new opportunities to make a difference as needs and communities change.

Hilding witnessed how the needs of the community are changing in his first days on the job, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to close and layoff or furlough employees.

“It’s going to take quite a while for this to sort itself out from a health standpoint and we expect it’ll take even longer than that for the economic impacts to really work their way through our impact on society,” Hilding said. “So this is not going to be a near-term situation from where our organization stands, and we’re going to help rebuild our society and our economy as we all recover from this highly unusual event.”

The good news for Interfaith is the community is known for stepping up when a need arises, something Hoy calls “just-in-time miracles.” And the generosity of community members has shined during the pandemic, with Hilding noting that people continue to reach out asking how they can help.

An example of this, albeit not necessarily as big as a “just-in-time miracle,” happened in late March. An Interfaith employee posted on NextDoor that they needed paper grocery bags at its food shelf. Days later, they had to tell people to stop bringing them because they were drowning in paper bags.

Besides donating specific items when Interfaith puts out a request, the best thing someone can do if they want to help is to donate money.

“We will use that funding to look at the needs in the community and we know there’s a wave that’s coming as we look at the national unemployment figures,” Hilding said. “The most vulnerable in our society are impacted in the best of times. And now we’ve entered almost unprecedented challenges, so we know there is an increase in need that’s coming and we are building our ability to respond as the impact becomes more quantifiable and more known.”

Although Interfaith’s building is closed during Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, the nonprofit is still open and providing essential services to those in need, including accepting new clients and offering a drive-up food shelf and financial assistance for rent and utilities.

“We’re restricted like others are in terms of access to our building, but the building is not Interfaith,” Hilding said.