A Neighbor's Story
We’ll call her D. She lives in Maple Grove. She is your neighbor. She is a mother with an elementary school-aged child. She works, but at an unlivable wage. She gets behind in her rent.
Her story could play out this way: D’s landlord evicts her for non-payment of rent. She has to move, although she fears there are few safe places she can afford. With a move, her child’s education, his relationships with teachers and friends, are disrupted. He falls behind; he acts out. They live in a constant state of stress.
But that’s not the way it happened. Instead, D’s property manager referred her to CROSS, a non-profit organization committed to providing crisis and other social services to families and individuals living in Maple Grove, Rogers, Osseo, West Champlin, Corcoran and Dayton. According to CROSS executive director Elizabeth Johnson, CROSS serves about 5,000 people (2,500 families) per month throughout these cities. “We are currently welcoming three new families requesting help per day,” she adds.
D had on occasion used CROSS’s food shelf, but was not aware that CROSS could also help her pay the rent. CROSS’s Peace of Mind Housing Fund was developed with just this intervention in mind; to offer local families financial and other assistance while they navigate any of a number of housing crises including difficulty with rent or mortgage payments, or the need to move out of an abusive situation. In addition, people at CROSS helped D with the paperwork to apply for SNAP food assistance, removing one more barrier to food and housing security for D and her child.
“Clients like D can spend 50 to 80 percent of their household income on housing,” Johnson says. “Average rent in the area is $1,500 per month, and many of the people we serve work for $9 or $10 per hour.” According to Minnesota Compass (a website that tracks and analyzes trends in areas that affect Minnesota quality of life), in Maple Grove alone, 25 percent of households have housing costs so high in relation to income that they struggle to pay for other basic needs like food, clothing, child care, health care coverage and medicines. These are the families—remember, one in four Maple Grove households—where trade-offs happen every day: buying fruit or Dad’s high blood pressure medicine; outfitting the kids with winter boots or winter coats; taking a second job or giving up on high-quality child care for the 4-year-old.
John Gillet volunteers in the warehouse stocking food.
A Neighbor’s Response
If one of four Maple Grove households faces these daily no-win choices, what can the other three of their neighbors do to help? One place to start is with CROSS. Options include donating time, items (especially some of particular need), and/or money.
CROSS volunteer Kathy Gillett and her husband, John, donate time. Every Thursday morning, they show up at the CROSS office located in Rogers, where Kathy works a 4 ½ -hour shift as the telephone receptionist and her husband works in the warehouse, restocking freezers and food shelves. Kathy enjoys her contact with the people CROSS serves, finding them friendly and appreciative. Her volunteer work for CROSS, she says, makes her feel “satisfied that I’m some small part of helping others.” Other volunteer opportunities include data entry, assistance with events, and leadership opportunities. There’s also a mobile food truck that brings healthy food to neighborhoods and senior housing developments where assistance is needed.
Donations of clothing and household items are always appreciated. Particularly needed are items of personal and household hygiene such as laundry soap, cleaning products, deodorant and the like. Finally, financial support is vital: donations are accepted on their website (at crossservices.org), via mail or in person.
CROSS volunteer and Maple Grove Rotarian Tom Anderson has even more ideas on how you can be a good neighbor. For the past seven years Anderson has organized and conducted the bed race event during the Maple Grove Days summer festival (scheduled for July 13 through 17). “One hundred percent of the proceeds from the bed races goes back into the community as bed, bedding and other needs for local CROSS clients,” Anderson says.
In the 2015 Maple Grove Days Bed Race, 22 local businesses and organizations paid entry fees to build beds like parade floats, prop them up on wheels and race them through city streets. There are four bed-pushers and one rider. “People dress up, and all the beds have different themes,” Anderson explains. “A thousand people can show up to watch.” See the Maple Grove Rotary website (clubrunner.ca/maplegrove) for ways to help during the bed races (which require 25 to 30 volunteers).
Whereas the bed race used to generate $4,000–$5,000, it has recently garnered as much as $16,000. This money allows the Maple Grove Rotary Club to build beds for donation via CROSS. Rotarians build the twin-sized bed frames, purchase mattresses, and have even gotten Maple Grove quilters involved in providing blankets for the beds.
“Our Rotary Club is now building 26 beds,” Anderson says. “One house we went to, all they had was a Christmas tree.” Rotarians provided a queen-sized bed and collected donated furniture to help furnish the family’s home.
Rotarians also lead other volunteer efforts. Last year Maple Grove and Rogers Rotarians had a “food fight” for CROSS, a competitive food drive between the two cities based on weight of items donated. “One of our volunteers threw his back out, he was lifting so much food,” says Anderson. “Unfortunately,” he adds, “Rogers won.”
An annual bed race, put on by the area Rotary Club, supports Peaceful Dreams for CROSS Kids. Photo by Clix
CROSS: A “No-Judgment” Zone
D’s property manager might have suggested contacting CROSS, but the next step was hers. She made the call. “They asked me to talk about what I needed,” she says. Then she went to the office, “where everyone was so nice. They helped me with rent. They helped me with food. And it’s not just about finances,” she adds. “They’re working to help you, as a person.”
Executive director Johnson recognizes that “coming to CROSS is a hard thing to do, and we want to encourage more and more people to take that risk and get the help they need.”
D’s experience bears this out, and D would give the following advice to people like herself who are facing a housing or food crisis: “Don’t be scared to call. CROSS is a no-judgment zone. It’s not just for money. They’ll help you with household items. They’ll put a coat on your back. They’ll refer you to counseling if you need it.” Medical and mental health services as well as employment opportunity assistance are available onsite.
D’s gotten a new job, one that pays much better than her previous position. She’s still in touch with the people at CROSS, she says, although she hasn’t stopped by in some time.
No-win to win-win. It takes courage on the part of the person in need. It takes the creation of a dignified, confidential and welcoming place to go to for assistance. It takes money, and beds, and people who care. It takes CROSS. And, perhaps even you.
CROSS programs provided the following from April 2014 to March 2015:
+ Peace of Mind Housing: $114,985 in emergency assistance funding distributed to 323 households; 56 of these were homeless families that CROSS assisted in finding a home.
+ Food Shelf: distributed 815,565 pounds of food among 8,347 household food shelf visits.
+ Meals on Wheels and Senior Housing Shelf: delivered 10,634 meals as well as 11,250 pounds of food in bags.
+ KidPack: delivered 38,000 pounds of weekend food and hygiene products to 2,600 children per month.
+ Special Event/Holiday Programs: provided $118,727 worth of goodies during the year, including 902 Christmas toys, 771 Easter baskets and 404 birthday gifts to community children.
+ Clothes Closet: distributed 54,219 pounds of clothing and household items to 4,416 families.
If you’d like to donate time to CROSS, give the office a call at 763.425.1050. Weekly tours are scheduled, after which you can meet with a volunteer manager and fill out an application stating the areas of service in which you would like to be included.