Eighteen years ago, on a brisk November day, Wayzata shoe repairman Bob Fisher was strolling through a sporting goods store. “I was trying to learn how to do something in the wintertime,” he remembers. “As soon as it got cold outside, I didn’t ice skate or play hockey or ski. I did nothing. So I thought, maybe I can learn how to winter camp.” Fisher found a slick mummy-style sleeping bag—with a minus-5 temperature rating—and started to get excited. “I thought, ‘I’m going to set up my tent and everything!’ It was the middle of November and about 15 degrees at night.”
That first night, Fisher says, he had something of an epiphany. “At about 2 o’clock in the morning, I got this message,” he chuckles. “I didn’t hear a voice—it was just a very clear message: Do something for the needy people of Wayzata. I had no idea there was anybody needy in Wayzata.” After giving it some thought, Fisher set a goal to raise $7,000—enough money to buy holiday meals for about 100 families. He’d sleep out in the cold every night until the goal was met.
And it didn’t take long. “All of a sudden, TV stations heard about it … and I started getting all of this coverage. It was the wildest thing,” he says. Within three weeks, Fisher had raised more than $10,000. When he brought the funds to Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners, a local nonprofit, he talked with staff and realized there was more to be done. Perhaps even a bigger problem than hunger, homelessness was a growing concern in the community. Fisher decided to focus his Sleep Out goal on raising funds and awareness for sustainable housing.
The rest is history. Back in 1996, Fisher had no idea that his casual winter camp-out would become a community phenomenon, a city-wide event raising millions of dollars for neighbors in need. Through the years, the Sleep Out melded with IOCP’s annual fundraising campaign and is now coordinated by IOCP’s development director, Jill Kohler. “It captured the imagination of people,” she says. “First it was Bob, this humble shoe repairman, sleeping out in the cold. Then businesses and churches started getting involved.”
In the late 1990s, Kohler started working with local clergy and business owners to organize Sleep Out teams. Community groups, from Boy Scout troops to church youth groups to sports teams, business and civic groups planned Sleep Out events in backyards, city parks and business sites, and raised pledges toward their fundraising goals.
Nick Lindquist, a 2005 graduate of Wayzata High School, was one of those Boy Scouts. When he was 12, his troop joined Bob Fisher to kick off that year’s Sleep Out. “I slept out 15 or 20 nights during my 10th-grade year. Junior year, I think I slept out 24 nights, and senior year, I slept out 33 nights,” Lindquist says proudly.
Like Fisher, Lindquist was motivated when he learned about the housing problems facing so many families in the community. When he was 11, after helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house, Lindquist was on hand to welcome the new owners to their home. “It was a mom and dad and two little boys. It struck me that they were just like my own family,” he says. “I got to see how happy they were to actually have a house. It struck me so hard, even as a kid. I wanted to make a difference.”
This winter, the IOCP Sleep Out celebrates its 18th anniversary, with a kick-off prayer walk and rally on November 9. Whether you and your family decide to pitch a tent or just pitch in, be sure to get involved, Jill Kohler says. The Sleep Out campaign includes a soup lunch fundraiser, a waffle breakfast sponsored by the Plymouth Lions, and a clergy fashion show to benefit IOCP’s Resale 101 store, so there’s something for everyone. “Everybody has a different passion and talent, and if you can figure out a way to use your talent for the good of others, what could be better?” Kohler says. “That’s what Bob Fisher always says: ‘Find your passion and do something about it.’”
IOCP Sleep Out campaign will begin with a community block party, prayer walk and poverty-simulation exercise from 5 to 8 p.m. November 9 at
1605 County Road 101. The sleep out runs through December 31.