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How to help Twin Cities neighbors in need this holiday season

These local organizations and charities are doing important work around the metro.
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This story is part of GoMN's 2017-18 Winter Guide.

Generosity is a holiday tradition, and there are myriad ways to bring cheer to those struggling through Minnesota's frigid winter.

On any given night, as many as 15,000 people – 6,000 of them younger than 24 – were homeless in Minnesota, according to the 2015 Minnesota Homelessness Survey. Our neighbors stay out of the cold at emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, and non-shelter locations such as meal sites, service centers, and homeless encampments.

Of the hundreds of thousands in the Twin Cities metro who do have housing, 21 percent were still below the poverty line last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This holiday season, there's a lot we can do to lend support to thousands across the Twin Cities who are hoping for a miracle. 

Local causes making a difference

The Sandwich Project: The volunteer-driven organization provides sandwiches to the poor year-round, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Run by the Minneapolis Homeless Ministry, the organization preps and delivers as many as 400,000 sandwiches yearly to food shelves in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs.

“The people we serve are mostly men and women who suffer from mental illness or chronic addiction – many of which have served our country in foreign wars," founder Tony Zosel said. "Our hope is to give our friends a sturdy meal in the battle through recovery.”

The Sandwich Project also provides basic necessities, and is always in need of donated socks, underwear, laundry detergent, hats and mittens. Gas and gift cards, particularly helpful for the poor and homeless, are also welcomed. (

Sponsor a Family MN: This non-profit charity finds sponsors for in-need families in Minneapolis and St. Paul and the inner-city suburbs, often in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is at 98 percent. Each sponsor shops anonymously for the family, and gifts are dropped off at a warehouse location where they can be picked up. 

"We predominantly serve the working poor – they are busy and stretched, often at one, two, or even three jobs," director Susan Valo said. "There's often a language barrier, but the kids and or adults are in school, they're working to better themselves, but nonetheless they're at a disadvantage." 

During the winter, the greatest needs are winter coats or boots so parents can go to work or walk their children to the bus stop. "The smallest obstacles, not having a blanket, bedding, coat, mittens etc., can present a challenge," Valo said. (

Helping children

Toys for Tots: The Twin Cities arm of the national movement distributes more than 200,000 donated toys to around 140,000 local children every Christmas. (

Children's Minnesota: The Twin Cities biggest pediatric hospital is always looking for donations of toys, games, clothes and books for sick children who are spending the holidays there. (

Helping the poor

Good in the Hood: During the holidays, they deliver Thanksgiving grocery baskets, hot meals, and holiday gifts to 6,000 Twin Cities families in partnership with Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities. (

People Serving People: Its family-focused homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis is the largest in the region, and it appreciates donations and volunteers for the holidays, when it wraps and gives gifts to children staying at the shelter.(

Listening House of St. Paul: This day shelter provides assistance, counsel, and a friendly ear to the homeless, disadvantaged, and the lonely. (

363 Days Food Program: Another sandwich enterprise, 363 Days makes 600,000 sandwiches a year. Minneapolis Recreation Development founder Allan Law, who has been helping the inner Twin Cities homeless since the '60s, delivers them 363 days a year. It accepts donations in the form of money or sandwiches. (


HandsOn Twin Cities: This center promotes local volunteering opportunities at non-profits. (

Neighbors, Inc.: This South St. Paul organization helps low-income families and as well as needing food and gift donations, requires volunteers for various holiday-related tasks. (

Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly: Little Brothers volunteers prepare and serve meals to seniors who can't make it to their service centers during the winter months. (

Salvation Army: Probably the most noticeable charitable holiday presence in the Twin Cities, it needs volunteers to staff its massive holiday drive – including bell-ringers. (

Online/app-based helping

JustGive: This is one of the easiest websites for donating. Search its database for the charity (including local ones) you want to support, and then select how much you want to donate. (

Volunteer Match: If you're looking to volunteer, you can search this site to find opportunities in your neighborhood. (

Charity Miles: This app doesn't cost you anything – it pays out money to a national charity of your choice for every mile you walk, run or bike. (

Share the Meal: The World Food Program's charity app allows you to "share your meal" around the world, providing meals to starving children for as little as 50 cents. (

Where to find more local giving options

There are hundreds of charities and nonprofits carrying out important work in Minnesota. To find more, we suggest using databases on website like Great Nonprofits, or Charity Navigator. Check first if they're registered with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office. It's not compulsory for nonprofits to do this, but it can be a red flag if a charity is unregistered.

This story is part of GoMN's 2017-18 Winter Guide.

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