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Two Minutes With…Michael Bennett, Director of Volunteer & Outreach Services

 

Mike has worked at House of Charity for over 10 years. His current title is Outreach and Volunteer Director, but he started as the Food Service Manager. Over the course of a decade, faces and programs have changed, but the need for assistance, sadly, is stronger than ever. “Ultimately, the goal of any agency which provides basic needs is to hang a sign that reads ‘closed, due to lack of customers’” Mike states.“If that sign were to be hung here, that would mean we don’t have people who need food, housing, or treatment. Sadly, we haven’t hung that sign in the ten years I have been here, nor the sixty years we have been an agency.”

When looking at ten years with one agency, the question of what keeps you coming back isn’t uncommon. “For me, it’s the tangibility.” Mike answered. “Take the Food Centre for example, you can look at the meal count and see that 422 people ate lunch today because of House of Charity. That food was made here and served here. For all we know, that was the only meal that someone will eat all day. And the same concept applies to Housing and Treatment too.”

While he has run the Food Centre in the past, Mike’s primary job function now is to be a voice in the community as to how House of Charity provides assistance to those in need. “I do a lot of presentations at businesses, civic groups, churches, and to our volunteers. I do my best to present realism to our stakeholders, and explain that the issues of homelessness, hunger, and need are as strong here in Minnesota as they are in Chicago or New York. The majority of us don’t want to acknowledge how close we are to needing assistance. But, it is hard for me to ignore reality when someone explains that they have only $80 for the month to buy food and personal items. They aren’t a composite story on the news. That person is here, in front of us as staff, and I try my best to relay that story to the groups I meet.”

At the end of his presentations, Mike uses a common closing; “I suggest, if nothing else, to say hello to people. By acknowledging someone’s humanity, simply saying hello, you may time stamp their week. For many of the people we serve, today feels a lot like last Tuesday. It may not seem like much, but the fact that a person didn’t walk past them as if they were a parking meter or a trash can might make their day, week or even longer. It’s really quite simple to do.”

Mike finishes by mentioning a meeting he was at a few months back. “We were asked what our legacy would be. As in, if we never came back to our position, what would we be remembered for? I hope mine would be that everyone matters. I give as much effort in getting to know someone in the meal line as I would to a CEO of a major corporation. I encourage everyone I meet to do the same. When a long-time volunteer asks ‘what happened to Bill, Eric, or Jane’ I know we are doing something right at HOC. One of our guests or our clients mattered enough for that volunteer to remember them, and ask about them. A connection was made. Often in our lives, we forget that we can positively impact people with our actions. It is pretty rewarding to see those positive interactions take place here every day.”