Army services a boon to thousands on Iron Range
Written by Craig Dirkes, Salvation Army Northern Division writer/photographer
The boom-and-bust economy of northeast Minnesota’s Iron Range has been a bust in 2016, with thousands of people laid off.
Many of these people have been relying on The Salvation Army to help them through the tough times. Our operation centers in the cities of Hibbing and Virginia are providing food to thousands of hungry families, while our center in Duluth – the closest big city to the Iron Range – offers housing and other services that aren’t readily available in smaller towns.
In Hibbing, for example, hundreds of people in need of food stop by on the first Wednesday and third Thursday of every month, when the Hibbing Salvation Army receives shipments of between 8,000 and 12,000 pounds of fresh produce, beans, canned goods, and more (pictured).
“The line of people goes all the way out into the street,” said Nancy Massich, longtime case manager at the Hibbing Salvation Army.
The Hibbing Salvation Army also serves hot dinners for 70 to 90 people every weeknight, and it recently received a $10,000 grant from the Cliffs Foundation to provide rent and other housing assistance in the area.
Keep reading for a closer look at how our centers are meeting needs in northeast Minnesota.
Meals in Virginia
The Virginia Salvation Army, located 25 miles east of Hibbing, offers the only hot dinner program in town. During summer 2016, the program served an average of 85 meals every weeknight.
The meals are a blessing to Eugene and Suzette Quaas (pictured), who stop by for dinner anytime they travel to Virginia from their home in Hoyt Lakes, located 23 miles east. If not for the program, they and others would have an even tougher time making ends meet.
“This place is a godsend – it helps out a whole lot of good people,” said Eugene, 56, who also uses the Virginia Salvation Army’s food shelf from time to time. During summer 2016, the food shelf served an average of 8,300 pounds of food per month – up from 7,200 pounds in summer 2015.
“We couldn’t make it if we didn’t come here,” Eugene added. “We are grateful.”
Dinner guest Karen Wild is just as appreciative.
“This food is a needed service in this area,” she said. “I see families that come in with three, four kids – I couldn’t imagine.”
Every time Karen comes for dinner, she leaves with an extra meal in a to-go box and gives it to her neighbor, who is a shut-in.
“My neighbor enjoys the home-cooked food,” Karen said. “We’ve never had a bad meal here. I love the chicken alfredo – they should bottle the sauce and sell it.”
The food is cooked and served by volunteers, many of whom come from local churches. That includes volunteer Jackie Anderson (pictured) of Hope Presbyterian Church, who’s been cooking her specialty – meatloaf – once a month for the past 15 years.
“I love serving people who need a good meal,” said Jackie, whose signature recipe features a mix of sage, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper.
Indeed, cooking up to 120 hot meals a day isn’t cheap. But thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Cliffs Foundation, the Virginia Salvation Army has been able to keep up with demand.
“The Cliffs Foundation grant has been manna from the sky,” said Lt. Sean Wise, co-leader of the Virginia Salvation Army. “Their support has been critical to Iron Range families who don’t have enough food to eat.”
Housing in Duluth
The Duluth Salvation Army serves people in search of important services that don’t always exist in Iron Range cities, such as supportive housing. Last year the Duluth Salvation Army housed 85 people at its three transitional housing facilities, which provide a safe and stable place to live while offering intensive case management.
“I felt like I was at the bottom of a lake and didn’t know how to swim,” Krystal said.
She moved into her Salvation Army unit in 2014 with nothing but the clothes on her back. Immediately, The Salvation Army gave her bus passes, food vouchers, pots and pans, linens, and other essentials to help her get started. Her plan: stay for two years while she worked to stay sober, find a job, and get her daughter back.
During Krystal’s journey, she appreciated how The Salvation Army let her do most of the day-to-day legwork of making calls, paying bills, and setting up appointments.
“They don’t do it for you,” she said. “That forces you to be independent. I liked that part.”
Today, Krystal has reached her goals. After staying sober and attending a trade school, she now works as a machine operator and loves her job. Best of all, she has her daughter back.
“For the first time in my life, I have control,” said Krystal, who is scheduled to move into her own market-rate apartment with her daughter in fall 2016. “I never thought I’d be here. I never realized there were people out there to help people like me.”