Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series examining poverty in the southwest suburbs.
EDEN PRAIRIE — You hear a lot of stories when you stock the shelves at the PROP Shop on Mitchell Road in Eden Prairie.
The single mom with three kids, who asked for nothing but four forks.
The immigrant who fled her war-torn home country, and requested a hard bed, because the shrapnel in her hip made it impossible to rise from a soft one.
The family who was moving with all of their possessions in a U-Haul, which was stolen, leaving them with nothing.
The families from Florida and Texas who relocated to Minnesota after losing their homes in recent hurricanes.
The seniors who need a new coffee pot, since their Social Security check won’t cover the cost of buying one at Target.
The women who fled their abusers in the middle of the night and are now hiding with their children.
These are the stories heard by some of the more than 350 PROP Shop volunteers, who help between 300 and 325 families a month from the southwest suburbs, mainly Eden Prairie and Chanhassen.
“The first thing people often say to me is, ‘How do you know they aren’t taking advantage of you?’” said PROP Shop Founder and Executive Director Cindy Eddy. “I say, ‘If you could buy your own shoes, wouldn’t you do that instead of somebody else’s sweaty, smelly shoes? Wouldn’t you buy your own pants if you could?’ These people come in demoralized, they’ve had some horrible things happen.”
The PROP Shop thrift store carries clothing, household items, books and furniture for sale to the general public and proceeds go to supporting the families PROP serves. The Family Service area helps local families in need find free clothing, household goods, and furniture.
The shop was founded a decade ago with a simple mission: to make a difference in the lives of neighbors facing hardships.
And they are only one of many organizations intent on helping others and working to make poverty a thing of the past — or, at least, a thing in the pasts of their clients.
“If you have a bad day, multiply that by 10, and that’s their day,” said PROP Family Service Coordinator Kyle Rose. “You just have to keep that in mind. Things snowball — you lose your job, then you’re having a hard time paying the bills. Then all of a sudden a kid gets sick. It seems to snowball sometimes, and it’s no fault of their own.”
WHAT’S BEING DONE?
Once you realize that poverty exists — and that it exists here, in the southwest metro — it can be easy to accept it as a given. In the southwest metro alone, an estimated minimum of 15,675 people live below the poverty line and another 25,331 people live below 200 percent of that, according to Minnesota Compass, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to researching social issues that impact the state.
It can be overwhelming, and it can become easy to expect that there will always be people in poverty, and that, often, they will stay in poverty. But many local individuals and organizations refuse to accept that.
“This is a temporary hardship you can get past,” Terry Hassan, who works in outreach for the CAP Agency, said.
She would know, because she’s a past client.
“That’s how I got to be involved in the CAP,” she said.
The CAP Agency, which serves Scott, Carver and Dakota Counties, is often touted for the comprehensive nature of its services. Once a client gets through the door, it’s easy enough to get them signed up not just for the services they came for, but any service they may need: child nutrition, utilities, even help for older adults with household chores.
Housing different services in the same place is an important part of creating a seamless referral system, said Hennepin County’s deputy administrator, Jennifer DeCubellis.
“We should do whatever we can to make it easier on individuals, so they don’t have to navigate systems,” she said.
That’s a big part of the reason Hennepin County has worked for a decade to create a more regional model for its Health and Human Services Department by partnering with local organizations, she said.
“We have very complementary services, but the more we work alongside each other, the more we’re going to see where the gaps are,” DeCubellis said. “A front door in these communities allows us to build relationships, build trust and meet those needs.”
Investment in “natural,” community-based supports and long-term partnerships leads to less reliance on government as well as more efficient and accessible programs, she said.
Hassan said she does encounter clients that are skeptical about whether they’re ever going to be able to get ahead, or whether the systems in place and the resources available will always leave them just shy of stable, let alone prosperous. But Hassan assures them that it worked for her, and they’re going to try to make it work for them.
“We’re trying to give you the pieces to a puzzle and steer you in all the right directions,” she said.
FILLING IN THE MISSING PIECES
Carver County families can face particular difficulties, as they are even further from the services and shelter system of downtown Minneapolis than people who live in Hennepin County. Scott County residents face similar struggles, which characterize suburban poverty.
“These oftentimes are people who are very much like you, they are people who might live on the same block but their son might be homeless sleeping behind Southwest Christian High School by the river trying to get by,” said the Rev. Ken Norman of Love INC. “They might be in difficult situation, or they might be people who were born and grow up here, settled into community and know it as home, and it is difficult to be here.”
Love INC, standing for In the Name of Christ, operates in the footprint of the Eastern Carver School District and is a partnership of 25 churches from 12 different denominations. Its services include a helpline to connect people with programs that meet their specific needs, and wider outreach initiatives including winter coat drives, a Thanksgiving basket drive, filling backpacks of school supplies and providing diapers and hygiene products.
In Watertown, the RAK, or Random Acts of Kindness, Warehouse serves clients working with His House in Minnetonka and the surrounding area, and has increasingly been helping Carver residents in need.
The RAK Warehouse is a wholesale store carrying clothing, shoes, furniture, books, toys and household goods. Like many local organizations, it is run by a staff of volunteers from community churches, organizations and individuals. All money raised goes back into the community.
“We work with people who are getting back on their feet, who have gotten into their first apartment or one of the trailer parks in the area and need a bed,” said RAK founder Daniel Turzinski. “We’re just here to help people.”
For suburban families facing emergency homelessness, the lack of local shelters poses a difficulty and Families Moving Forward fills an immediate need.
Partnered with Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, Families Moving Forward is a shelter with capacity for four families. During the day, guests stay in the Families Moving Forward space in the basement of Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska. There, they work with staff to assess their rental and financial history, determine financial barriers and determine employment goals.
At night, the families are transported to a faith community in the program’s hospitality network, where volunteers provide an evening meal, family activities and a room for each family to spend the night.
Faith communities in the network include Shepherd of the Hill, St. John’s Lutheran and Brookwood in Chaska, Church of St. Michael and Shepherd of the Lake in Prior Lake and Hope Lutheran in Jordan. Families Moving Forward prioritizes keeping families together, and clients must be over 18 with legal custody of the children in their family and must pass a background check.
“We try to move families through our program in 60 days, and work with our clients to see how we can increase their income or create a plan that will take them to that next step toward stability,” said case manager Claire DesHotels. “Our goal is there in the name, we want to help families move forward.”
In Scott County, Amy Tasto helps run Shakopee Community Assistance, which distributes diapers and other essentials to local families who need them. It started as a small diaper drive through a local preschool, but for four-and-a-half years, Shakopee Community Assistance has been growing, the better to serve area families.
Tasto has personal insight into what some of her clients may be experiencing. When her husband lost his job, after they had first moved to Shakopee, the couple found themselves in a tough situation. They almost, she said, became homeless themselves.
“There was no help for anything,” she said. “There’s new housing all the time, but most of us can’t afford it. They’re all working families, but they’re working poor.”
On top of that, she said, transportation systems are still very lacking.
“Getting to the business center is almost impossible,” she said. “What do some of these other people do when they refer you to Edina or something? People just don’t go to doctor appointments, and they get sicker and sicker, and they lose their jobs because of it.”
Tasto thinks Shakopee and the southwest metro in general need more resources for people who are dealing with poverty, simply because they already exist in the community, and in staggering numbers.
“Society as a whole, and our business communities and our city council — we’ve truly failed our low-income families,” she said.
She’s not looking for complicated adjustments. She wants to see a few more 300-square-foot ramblers on the market for people who need a starter home. She wants the CAP Agency food shelf to be open later, so visitors can be more flexible with their hours. She wants a more efficient transportation system, so people could actually rely on public transit to get to a steady job, or to the doctor, or to their kids’ day care, or to church.
“Nobody in our society anymore should be homeless or hungry,” she said.
NOBODY GETS TO JUDGE
At the Prop Shop, it’s another day of business — shoppers in the thrift store are admiring ornaments on a tree and a refurbished telephone booth, while on the warehouse side volunteers sort books, clothing and household goods. A woman pulls up in a van to make a donation, and Eddy catches her as she is closing her trunk.
“Thank you,” she calls. “We can’t do this without you!”
She echoes what many nonprofits and social service organizations have found while working in the southwest suburbs — that often everything might look fine on the outside, while in reality a family is struggling to feed, clothe and house their kids.
“We’ve helped five families from Bearpath,” Eddy said, referencing a gated neighborhood of high-end homes around Bearpath Golf & Country Club in Eden Prairie. “They’re not telling their neighbors about what’s going on. They might be driving a late-model car that they are about to lose; they are about to lose their house and can’t sell it; their son’s Adderall is $300 a month. They can’t afford a new coat.”
She said the most important thing people can do is reach out and educate themselves on the issue of suburban poverty, to be aware of the need for safe housing, food and basic necessities in their own backyards.
“Information breeds confidence. This is a wealthy suburb, and people assume there is no need here,” Eddy said. “These are not people who are choosing to sit around and then coming in to get free stuff. That is not what we see. They are working and trying to make it. You don’t know someone’s story, and nobody gets to judge.”
The following organizations are working to assist people in need throughout the southwest metro. The list is arranged alphabetically. If you know of an organization that is not listed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. We would like to keep this list updated to serve as a resource for both people in need and people looking to give back to their communities.
Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative
This interfaith organization provides advocacy and affordable housing throughout the Twin Cities. Beacon’s Families Moving Forward program offers homeless families hospitality, shelter and support at several southwest metro sites.
Chaska’s Bountiful Basket
This eastern Carver County food shelf in Chaska is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Photo ID and proof of residence are required, as well as an application, though clients can register and shop on the same day. Appointments recommended.
Common Bond Communities
This nonprofit is one of the Midwest’s largest nonprofit affordable housing providers. Family and senior housing in the west metro are bolstered by a range of supportive services. In addition to property management, CommonBond also provides housing development, preservation and rehabilitation work.
This nonprofit offers services in many Minnesota communities including Burnsville. A food shelf runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays at the Burnsville Family Resource Center, where people in need can also receive help connecting with resources that include utility assistance.
Community Action Partnership Agency
The CAP Agency serves residents of Scott, Carver and Dakota counties through a wide range of programs including a food shelf, meal delivery for seniors, a crisis nursery, home visitation program for young families, and energy and housing assistance. The one-stop-shop, with a location in Shakopee, also connects people to other services.
Fare For All
Low-cost, nutritious food is available at 30 Twin Cities locations, where food packages are sold once a month, ranging from $10 to $25. The program is open for all and doesn’t require advance registration or paperwork. Locations include Bloomington, Burnsville, Chaska, Eden Prairie and Shakopee.
This Lake Minnetonka-area service organization provides direct services to families in need through basic care assistance, handyman services, a web-based donation program and thrift store where people can get clothing and household goods. Proceeds also go to help neighbors in need.
ICA Food Shelf
This food shelf serves the residents of Hopkins, Minnetonka, Excelsior, Shorewood, Deephaven, Greenwood and Woodland. In addition to a food shelf, ICA provides employment and emergency assistance as well as free medical clinic information and help with transportation and housing.
Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners
Interfaith Outreach serves Hennepin County communities, including Minnetonka Beach, Orono, Plymouth and Wayzata, through a range of services. Emergency assistance and employment services are available and a food shelf is open Monday through Wednesday and Fridays — hours and details are available online.
Jordan Area Food Shelf
The food shelf provides clients with bags of bags of bread, meat, eggs and milk as well as other groceries.
Loaves and Fishes
This program offers free evening meals in several towns including Hopkins, Bloomington, Plymouth and Shakopee. Times and locations are available online. Fresh produce for the meals is grown at four Twin Cities locations and limits cafeteria waste by partnering with companies, schools and universities to capture food that would otherwise be thrown away.
Love INC (In the Name of Christ)
Serves residents of Chaska, Chanhassen, Carver and Victoria through a partnership of local faith communities that connect volunteers with people in need. Programs include FurniShare — which provides free, gently used donated furniture to neighbors in need — and initiatives that include coat collections and holiday food baskets.
Minnesota Homeownership Center
This organization offers homebuyer services and foreclosure assistance to help people find and keep their homes.
This organization, formerly called “Teens Alone” works with youth aged 15 to 24 who may be struggling with homelessness in the Wayzata, Eden Prairie, Hopkins and St. Louis Park school districts.
It provides housing assistance, barrier-free counseling to youth and families, housing programs and community outreach.
Its drop-in center is open Monday through Thursday, from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., to provide job search and housing help, budget advice, and food or hygiene items.
My Very Own Bed
This nonprofit provides new beds and linens to the children of Twin Cities families who have just secured stable housing. Referral partners include Interfaith Outreach, Simpson Housing Services, Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative and the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
New Prague Peace Center Food Shelf
Clients with proof of residence in the New Prague area are accepted. Out-of-town clients are encouraged to use the food shelf in their home communities. Walk-ins are welcome at the Peace Center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Thursday evenings from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
People Reaching Out to People (PROP)
PROP serves Eden Prairie and Chanhassen residents in need through employment support and food programs, short-term emergency financial help and programs for youth and seniors. People can visit the PROP food shelf once a month and the Fresh Choice Market every week between 9:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Wednesday evenings from 4 to 6:30 p.m. A picture ID and proof of residency is required for all adults.
The PROP Shop
The PROP Shop is a resale store and nonprofit. The Family Service area helps local families with free clothing, household goods and furniture. Community members donate gently used clothing, household goods, and furniture which are either sold in the resale store or given directly for free to local families in need.
Random Act of Kindness (RAK) Warehouse
This volunteer-run store in Watertown sells used clothing, shoes, furniture and household goods to benefit people in need.
Rebuilding Together Twin Cities
This program helps low-income homeowners by improving the safety and health of their homes. Accessibility services help older adults and people with disabilities remain safe and independent. Livability services tackle everything from weatherizing and landscaping to electrical and plumbing work. Volunteers also do beautification and renovation work for community centers, schools and supportive housing facilities.
This community agency serves low-income families and individuals in the west metro through a wide range of resource referrals, social services support, and programs for youth and children.
This program discreetly provides backpacks full of food for food-insecure children in the Prior Lake-Savage School District. It helps ensure they have something to eat over the weekends, when they don’t have access to school lunches.
This statewide organization hosts a pop-up food pantry in Savage every third Monday of the month at Glendale United Methodist Church. Doors open at 4 p.m. and distribution runs from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Second Harvest Heartland
The organization sponsors a free food giveaway the second Thursday of every month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Friendship Church in Prior Lake. Second Harvest Heartland also sources food to distribute to food banks and get to people in need.
Shakopee Community Assistance
This nonprofit serves Scott and Carver county residents by providing a range of items needed for the care and comfort of babies and children, including diapers, wipes, clothing, miscellaneous household items, and supplemental nutritious food for registered clients.
Simpson Housing Services
This metrowide organization works with landlords and developers to provide affordable housing for families and individuals. Supportive family housing is offered in several communities including Chaska and Shakopee.
Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity provides mortgage foreclosure prevention and home-ownership programs. Volunteers also make critical repairs for low-income homeowners and help elderly people stay in their homes as long as possible through accessibility modifications.
Waconia United Food Shelf
The food shelf is open Thursday through Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Hours and details are available online. Clients must have a photo ID and proof of residence for Waconia, St. Bonifacious, new Germany, Cologne or Victoria. An application is required, though people can register and shop on the same day.
Watertown Friends for Life Food Shelf
This food shelf, in Watertown City Hall, is supported by local churches, businesses, schools, organizations and individuals. It is open on Monday evenings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon by appointment.
This organization serves people in need throughout western Hennepin County. Programs include emergency assistance for rent, mortgages, and utilities, food support, and job skills programs. Family programs include free personal hygiene and cleaning supplies, a birthday shelf and pet food assistance.