Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota

Brainerd services: Anything but ordinary

Added on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Salvation Army uses your donations to fill unique needs in thousands of communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and across the world.

In Brainerd, Minn., the needs are somewhat unusual.

Beautiful lake sceneBrainerd is a population 13,500 community in northern Minnesota that lives and dies by the summer tourist season. Every May through September, thousands of anglers and vacationing families flock to their cabins or Brainerd’s world-class lakeside resorts.

During the rest of the year, however, life in Brainerd can be very different.

Brainerd officers, Lts. Grant and Jaclyn Holloway“The winters are frigid, and many local families that rely on seasonal jobs end up running out of money before summer,” said Lt. Grant Holloway, who leads the Brainerd Salvation Army with his wife, Lt. Jaclyn Holloway.

When times are tough, many of these families lean on the Brainerd Salvation Army and its unique set of services.

“This community has very specific needs, and we are very intentional about how we fill them,” Holloway said.

Example: Because Brainerd includes a large population of retirees, the Brainerd Salvation Army offers the free use of wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, and other medical equipment. Almost every day, at least one person will stop by to pick up or donate one of these items.

Brainerd leader with youthAnother unique need is the simple act of providing a listening ear.

“A lot of people come in off the street just looking for somebody to talk to,” Holloway said. “One time this summer, a man who was sad came in and said he didn’t want to be himself anymore – he wanted to be who God wanted him to be. So I prayed with him.”

Several weeks later, the man and Holloway bumped into each other at a 4th of July event in downtown Brainerd. The man was no longer sad, and he was smiling ear-to-ear.

Holloway also cited food programs and emergency shelter as interesting examples of how the Brainerd Salvation Army changes lives in the one-of-a-kind world of northern Minnesota. Here’s a closer look:

Emergency shelter

The Brainerd Salvation Army is the region’s primary agency to serve people and families experiencing homelessness. Shelters do not exist in Brainerd, all of Crow Wing County, and most surrounding counties – an overall area that covers thousands of square miles.

“There are many homeless people up north, and we are doing all we can to serve them,” Holloway said.

To that end, the Brainerd Salvation Army provides emergency shelter. This includes one-night vouchers to local hotels, along with bus passes to places of safety. Those who receive a bus pass often travel 60 miles south to The Salvation Army’s 69-bed shelter in St. Cloud.

In the past year, the Brainerd Salvation Army provided hotel stays and bus vouchers to more than 100 households (145 individuals). People and families are allowed to use a hotel voucher or bus pass one time per year.

“We don’t offer these services as a Band-Aid – it’s just one step in getting them off the streets,” said Lt. Jaclyn Holloway, adding that those in need of shelter must meet with a Salvation Army caseworker to determine a course of action to prevent future homelessness.

The Brainerd Salvation Army also helps curb homelessness by working with other local agencies to find permanent housing for at-risk people and families.

Food Shelf

Few food shelves are as unique as the one at the Brainerd Salvation Army.

For starters, the place offers deer meat.

“We love venison,” affirmed Linda Loftis, who coordinates food shelf donations given by the public, local grocery stores, and hunters who’ve run out of room in their freezer. “As long as the meat has been processed through a processing company, we’ll take it.”

Another unique service: special sets of foods are available for those experiencing homelessness.

“For people living outside, we provide foods that are easy to prepare and can be cooked over a campfire, like hamburgers and hot dogs,” Loftis said.

The food shelf even offers non-food items, including hygiene kits, and handmade blankets and sleeping mats crocheted by local women’s groups.

“I guess you’d say we’re all-purpose here – we try to help everybody out,” Loftis added with a laugh.

The Brainerd Salvation Army is the largest food shelf in Crow Wing County, and the fifth-largest in Minnesota.

Along with staff, it is operated by four volunteers who work six hours a day. These efforts provide fresh produce, meat, milk, nonperishables, and other foods to about 200 people and families per week.

The food shelf is a godsend to people like Chris, a Brainerd resident caring for his two nephews while their mother battles mental health issues.

“I’m trying to help my sister and her kids, but it’s almost financially impossible,” Chris said. “This food shelf bridges the gap. It’s a blessing.”

In addition to food and shelter, the Brainerd Salvation Army offers a long list of other important services, such as disaster relief, and Bible-based character-building programs for youth. A church service is held every Sunday morning at 10:45 a.m.

“The Salvation Army in Brainerd is a lifeline during every season of the year, for every season of local families’ lives,” Holloway said.

Other Tidbits

  • The Brainerd Salvation Army food shelf is unique because it offers a “grocery-style” model in which guests pick out their own food.
  • Brainerd backpack giveawayIn August, the Brainerd Salvation Army distributed more than 500 backpacks filled with pens, pencils, notebooks, and other items. “A lot of us in Brainerd couldn’t do what we do as parents without The Salvation Army – I firmly believe that,” said Kris, 38, a stay-at-home mom who received backpacks for four of her children.
  • Up to 50 kids attend the Brainerd Salvation Army’s youth character-building programs on Thursday nights. “These are great programs that teach children about values,” Lt. Grant Holloway said. “For a lot of these kids, youth night is their only connection to church.”
  • Baxter, Minn. mayor, Darrel OlsonThe Brainerd Salvation Army is vital to Crow Wing County, according to Darrel Olson, mayor of nearby Baxter. “Not everyone realizes the tremendous hours the Brainerd Salvation Army puts into helping this community,” he said. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job. The efforts of their staff, volunteers, and donors have reaffirmed to me the generosity of this community.”

How You Can Help

Help feed your neighbors by supporting your local Salvation Army food shelf. You can help by volunteering, giving food, or donating money.