The men that walk through the doors at the Volunteers of America building at 27th Avenue and Lake Street sometimes arrive with a bankers box with their personal belongings. Most often, they arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, but that doesn’t mean that they are dressed for the weather.
Amy Moore, VOA Social Services Coordinator, recalls one client who arrived in a snow storm wearing a windbreaker, t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Another client who she describes as tall and skinny had a winter coat, but it was an 8X.
Changing Beliefs and Attitudes
The majority of the VOA’s clients are from federal prison and are going through its reentry program. Some have spent 9 months in prison, others 30 years. The program is designed to help them re-acclimate to society and all that that entails, including finding a job, clothes, housing, and healthcare.
“How we accomplish this is through programming,” explained Moore. “We have classes that give them the information and tools that they need to go out into the world. In the classes, we do everything from hand out phone numbers to role play.” They also work to change behavior and thought patterns. More said, “Our whole premise is that your thinking controls your behavior, and your behavior controls your life and your outcomes. [Through the classes] we try to change people’s thinking and beliefs and attitudes to be more pro-social.”
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400 Hours on East Lake Street
The men have the chance to put their new-found social skills into practice by volunteering in the community. In 2013, they spent more than 400 hours cleaning up East Lake Street. They also help set-up at community events and have assisted at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church’s Fare for All program.
Leaving Prison with Nothing
Starting over in life can be difficult when you don’t have any of the basics, such as winter gear. There are a couple reasons why people don’t have anything when they are released from prison. They may not have been able to afford to send their belongings home when they went to prison. Or, they may have been in prison for such a long time that the resources and relationships they once had are gone. Kendra Hess, VOA intern, commented, “What I’ve seen a lot is that when people go through the prison system they lose some of the family support they had. Or, some families don’t have the resources to provide clothing or a nice jacket – the things that these clients need.” As a result, they have to rely on donations or charities.
More added, “For the most part, they go to prison with nothing, and they come out with what they came in with, which is nothing.”
How to Help
To help provide these men with warm clothing for the winter, the VOA is holding a winter clothing drive. They generally use public transportation to go to job interviews, so new or gently used hats, gloves, scarves, and coats for men sized large to XXXL is greatly appreciated.
The winter clothing drive will go until December 18th. Drop off boxes are located at the VOA at 2825 E. Lake Street and the Longfellow Community Council office at 2727 26th Ave S. Contact Kendra Hess at kendra dot hess at voamn.org with any questions.
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Related: Tis the season of giving and getting — Where to donate and receive in the Twin Cities (Paige Elliott, 2013)