Like many good causes, Plymouth’s Interfaith Outreach started out small. Interfaith Outreach development manager Lani Willis explains that the group “began as a small food shelf in a church basement 39 years ago, and has grown into a human services nonprofit that serves eight west Hennepin County cities.”
The group provides services including “family support, food, housing…, education and youth employment and transportation,” Willis adds. And the group has grown so much since the time that they provided solely food shelf services. “We work with about 2,000 families … each year, and engage about 2,000 volunteers,” Willis says. The approximately 2,000 families comprise about 6,000 people.
Despite the expansion of their services, Interfaith Outreach has stayed true to their roots. Their founder, LaDonna Hoy, still leads the group, but Willis says that members and volunteers can be heard referring to Hoy as “the Mother Theresa of Wazyata.”
Though Interfaith Outreach isn’t a religious organization, Willis says that the group takes inspiration from a few religious leaders. “Our roots were planted by lay leaders in area faith communities who wanted to explore whether, by working together, they could collectively meet local human needs more effectively,” says Willis.
With a goal as worthy as making life a little better for people who need an extra hand, it’s not difficult to understand why thousands of volunteers have joined up with Interfaith Outreach in the past 39 years. “I was really drawn to Interfaith Outreach for a few reasons,” says Wayzata volunteer Jonell Cella. “[I was drawn] because of the great work they do right in our own community, and because of the wonderful people I’ve met who work there.”
And like most in the Interfaith Outreach community, Cella sings praises for the group’s founder. “[Hoy’s] passion and commitment are so inspiring and contagious.” But Cella has passion of her own. As a volunteer for about 20 years, she says that she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. “I plan to maintain my involvement and commitment to Interfaith Outreach for a very long time. I can’t say enough about their strong stewardship and the wonderful impact they make in our community.”
Cella first heard of Interfaith Outreach through her church, St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. After she moved to Plymouth, she began her relationship with the group. “My first volunteer activity was collecting food for their food shelf with the Faith Formation class I was teaching there,” she recalls. When Interfaith Outreach moved from Wayzata to Plymouth, Cella decreased her work hours so that she would have more time to volunteer.
Cella began committing more time to Interfaith Outreach, volunteering in as many ways as she could, including working at Resale Select, the food shelf and the front desk. Cella’s hard work has been rewarded. “I was…invited to join the development committee about three years ago, and since then [I] have really enjoyed taking on many new challenges.” Some of Cella’s new responsibilities include “chairing the Wayzata Community Prayer breakfast benefitting Interfaith Outreach.” Next May, Cella will even be chairing one of the committees for the annual Spread Your Wings gala.
The dedication Interfaith Outreach inspires in its community is, as Cella says about Hoy, contagious. Hearing the stories of those they’ve touched makes it seem like the group can do just about everything. With initiatives like the Great Expectations initiative, dedicated to bringing resources to children to help them succeed, Project Success, helping those get back on track towards getting a college education, Interfaith Outreach does what they can to help who they can.
Interfaith Outreach’s endless list of projects and initiatives is telling of the effort they put into what they do, but Willis says that the program’s main priorities revolve around housing, education and mental health. Their website explains that 36% of the program expenses go towards food, 28% towards housing and 16% towards education and youth services. The rest goes towards family support, transportation and employment.
According to the Interfaith Outreach website, the majority of Interfaith Outreach’s funds come from foundations and individual donations, with only 20% of funds coming from other areas, such as corporations, organizations, and government. Readers who support Interfaith Outreach’s work can get involved by donating and supporting some of their many programs.
Donating isn’t the only way to contribute to this highly-regarded community. Those who want to be more engaged can do as Cella’s did and volunteer. Interfaith Outreach opportunities range from casual one-time volunteer options to group-volunteering options. The group even provides the chance to choose a volunteer position in an area you’re especially passionate about.
If you want to volunteer but don’t have a lot of time to commit to volunteering, Resale Select, one of Cella’s former volunteer roles, is an option. Resale Select is a place where Interfaith Outreach clients, among others, can come to find items they may need, like clothes or home goods. Resale Select acts as a thrift store, with all proceeds going towards Interfaith Outreach programs and services.
Keep Resale Select in mind when you’re going through your clothes to decide what to keep and what to give away. Interfaith Outreach keeps track of what clients may need. Currently, the shop is looking for good quality women’s clothes and purses, queen size bed sheets and kitchenware like pots and pans. The Interfaith Outreach website frequently updates the Resale Select page with items that they need.
And if you happen to grab too much food at the grocery store, Interfaith Outreach’s food shelf is still alive and well. Donations are always welcome.
Interfaith Outreach’s annual Sleep Out event really captures the spirit of the group. For 24 years, the Interfaith Outreach community has come together to sleep in boxes, cars and tents to raise awareness about homelessness. The Sleep Out began in mid-November and will continue all through this month, ending on the last day of the year. Donate through Interfaith Outreach’s website to get started with your chance to participate.
1605 County Road 101 N., Plymouth