By Kristen Miller
Once a month, a group from Crossroads Community Church in Cokato brings food to serve to those in need in the inner city of Minneapolis as part of the Franklin Avenue Outreach.
Randy Moe of Crossroads has volunteered for the inner city mission for the past five years. “It’s nice to give back,” he commented.
Moe coordinates a group to go down to Trinity First Lutheran Church the third Saturday of the month and serve members of the multi-cultural community known as the Phillips Neighborhood.
With a household annual median income of $28,000, the Phillips Neighborhood is poor and is also said to have one of the highest crime rates in Minneapolis.
“I wouldn’t want to be there at night,” said Nicki Moe, Randy’s wife. She brings her sons, Cain, 13; and Caleb, 12, so they can see the diversity and get the hands-on experience serving those less fortunate.
“Kids don’t understand not having a PS3 (PlayStation), or getting iPads,” Nicki commented, comparing them to a group of siblings she served in December who didn’t even have winter coats to wear.
Serving anyone, from the homeless to those suffering from mental illness and addition, the Franklin Avenue Outreach doesn’t turn anyone away unless the food runs out.
“For some people, it’s all the food they get in a week,” Nicki commented.
This past month, the group served hamburgers and hotdogs purchased from White Front Locker Service in Cokato.
Nicki had the job of serving the hotdogs and hamburgers only one per person. If they want more than one patty, they have to go back to the end of the line, which she sometimes has to tell them.
Serving the people of the Phillips Neighborhood “puts it in perspective” for her, Nicki said.
She remembers serving on what happened to be a somewhat mild winter day. Someone in line complained how cold it was. Nicki, who was dressed accordingly, told the person, “At least it’s 32 degrees,” implying it could be colder.
The person responded as if it were easy for Nicki to say since she gets to leave in her warm car, drive to her warm home, and sleep in a warm bed.
Many of those served at the Franklin Avenue Outreach don’t have those luxuries, she noted.
In addition to providing food, the Cokato group also brings donated clothing, much of which is excess from the Save and Share Thrift Store, Moe explained.
History of the Franklin Avenue Outreach
Tom Stover, the current pastor at Trinity First Lutheran, who also has a PhD in clinical psychotherapy, started at the church as a counselor and family minister in 2005.
Trinity First Lutheran Church was the first Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod congregation established in Minnesota, and is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Minneapolis, according to its website. It was organized in 1856, to investigate mission possibilities among Chippewa Indians in the Minnesota Territory, and to serve German Lutherans already there.
Stover said he recognized the church’s work fulfilling the sacraments and liturgy, but he wanted to get out into the community more and do something that would really help the people of the neighborhood.
In front of the church was an abandoned garage.
After cleaning up the needles and other garbage and debris, the church began serving hotdogs from the corner.
Though they only served a couple dozen people the first time, word eventually got out and the mission grew.
The church served in that location for about six years, until the building was eventually tore down. Stover, along with Dale Meier, who also coordinates the effort, began the process of relocating the outreach to the church yard and parking lot.
The outreach has grown from one church serving once a month to several churches alternating weekends throughout the month, Stover explained. “It’s a grassroots effort,” he said.
When talking about the mission behind the outreach, Stover referenced Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me . . . What you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
He described the Phillips Neighborhood as being “the worst of the worst of the worst,” when it comes to poverty, addiction, mental illness, and crime.
“If we don’t take care of them, who will?” Stover asked.
He also described Minneapolis as the most diverse gateway city, with 130 to 150 different languages spoken there.
Most of the people they serve wouldn’t get along outside the church perimeters, Stover said. But while there, “it’s a peaceful place.”
Part of his pro bono work is just listening.
“Nobody listens to these people because no one thinks they have anything to say,” Stover said.
Though that they serve people of varying religions, Stover said it’s not his job to convert people to Christianity. “The Holy Spirit converts; I don’t convert people.”
The outreach exists because “We know that’s just what we’re supposed to do,” he said.
Moe said he does it to give back.
“I used to be a serious drunk and drug addict,” Moe said, adding, “I did nothing but take, take, take.”
Anyone interested in donating monetarily to the Franklin Avenue Outreach may send a check to Crossroads Community Church, PO Box 295, Cokato, MN 55321.
Please indicate the ministry in the memo.