Catholic Charities CEO says it needs state support to grow

At the corner of Chicago and 17th Street East, there is a hidden heart of the neighborhood where the homeless of Minneapolis know there is always a hot breakfast and lunch.

"We have spaghetti today," said the long-time cook Beverly Killebrew.  She is one of the many staff members at the Mary F. Frey Minneapolis Opportunity Center who always has comfort on the menu. 

"I like the clients and the atmosphere, and I love to cook," Killebrew said as she stirred the fresh salad to serve with the spaghetti and garlic bread.

As the center’s mostly homeless clients file in and out, they create a unique rhythm of life that the Catholic Charities CEO is trying to give a new beat.

"You know, during the COVID time, there was sort of limited interaction that we could have," reflected Michael Goar on the need to engage with the people they serve.  "We thought of the idea of, ‘Hey why don’t we go back and connect with our community partners and our stakeholders and our clients and talk about what’s happening in their world.’"

That led Goar to hold what he called 100 in 100, or a hundred conversations in a hundred days. 

"Well, I learned quite a bit," said Goar.  Among the leading takeaways for the agency was the need to dig deeper into their work and become more purposeful. "What I’ve learned is that the basic services that we provide, which is sort of shelter and food is not enough. That is not a ceiling, but that’s the floor."

At the Frey Opportunity Center, Catholic Charities is already offering more.  In addition to the hundreds of hot meals it provides every day, it also offers internet access, a mail address site, and counseling on job training and English literacy.   But Goar says those services have never been prioritized or measured in the past.  Now he wants to make them key performance indicators.

"Not in terms of how many meals or process count, but actual outcomes.  How many of our clients are going through our system and no longer relying on Catholic Charities as a provider of certain services," said Goar. "So we are sort of reorganizing our organization in a way that is impactful and also being more focused in our work."

One of those areas he wants to focus on is offering more spiritual nourishment.  Goar emphasized that he is not advocating for a particular religion since they serve clients of all religions.

"Can we, as Catholic Charities, provide spiritual care when they walk in, in our shelters or in the housing units," Goar openly asked.  "What services are we providing to ensure they are treated as holistically with dignity and respect?"

Mary F. Frey Minneapolis Opportunity Center (FOX 9)

But all of this takes money.  It costs Catholic Charities $1.2 million to run the Mary F. Frey Minneapolis Opportunity Center for one year.  The charity says it gets very few public dollars to operate the building and they need more.  Staff says if funding is not secured at the state legislature this year, the building is likely to close.

"In order for us to have a sustainable strategy, in order for us to provide those services to the most vulnerable community in this space, we need state and other public sectors to be partners with us," said Goar.

Back in the kitchen, Killebrew is still planning meals for the clients she loves to serve.

"Around here they call me mom," said Killebrew of the people she sees every day. "I love it. I’ll be here a while."

It’s part of the internal mission that drives the staff, even if they don’t know how much longer Catholic Charities can sustainably keep the doors open to the Frey Center.  It’s why they say they’re refocusing on their mission and more public funding.

"All of us want to have a sense of belonging someplace, and we want to create that sense of belonging for our clients that we serve every day," said Goar.