Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative/Econo Lodge

Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative

The Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative is located inside the school of its namesake. Myers-Wilkins Elementary was recently known as Grant Elementary and received its new designation when the school was renovated in 2011. The name Wilkins-Myers comes from two notable Duluthians:

*Ruth Myers was a longtime Duluth School Board member—the first Native American elected official in Duluth- who was also co-director of the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth Campus Center of American Indian and Minority Health.

*Marge Wilkins was once president of the Duluth NAACP and was the first African American female graduate of St. Mary’s School of Nursing.

Both women serve as excellent examples of what can be achieved when a student believes in their full potential. Myers-Wilkins CSC aims to do just that. Their goal is “to provide opportunities for youth and families to learn and grow in a safe and welcoming environment. Our programs enhance academic, social, and creative skill which will empower our community through finding strength in our diversity.”

Myers Wilkins InfoMyers-Wilkins Elementary was the first of three Duluth schools to become an adopter of the Duluth Community School Collaborative model. The free after-school programs and summer programs they provide are designed to lessen the impact of poverty on youth and keep them engaged in academics. Learning and their community. The Myers-Wilkins school has about 400-450 students, 80% of which are considered low/moderate income. The program addresses more than just academics but views the students holistically. Myers-Wilkins CSC does this through creative and innovative programs that strengthen the relationships between home, school and the community, keep kids engaged, foster positive experiences and allow them to reach their potential. This may involve providing food, addressing health issues and giving them the skills to deal with the stresses in their lives.

Among the programs they offer are summer enrichment programs that include Theater Camp, Girl Power!, Imagination Station, and COMPASS Summer camp, which teaches science and the arts. After-school programs emphasize things like art, creative writing, soccer, basketball skills, cooking, outdoor adventures, Spanish, Girl Scouts, and robotics.

They also have family events throughout the year that include everything from community meals to wellness, to science and cultural exhibitions. One event is a huge annual Powwow that features a career and higher education fair, feast and Native American singers, dancers, and families from the local community and surrounding areas. Each Powwow participant is thanked and honored with a “migwetch” bag containing useful items. Part of the personal care products that Myers-Wilkins CSC receives from their hotel partner, Econo Lodge, go into these bags.

Happy Camper
Camping can expose youth to new experiences which give them self-confidence and inspire an appreciation for knowledge, learning, and adventure. ( Photo provided by Meyers-Wilkins CSC)

Britt Johnson, the Youth Development Programs Coordinator, emphasized how important local partnerships are to the success of their organization. There is a lengthy list of partners that include schools, youth organizations, and non-profits. It’s this collaboration that strengthens the reach and opportunities for Myers-Wilkins CSC participants. For instance, the YMCA provides their own youth summer camps. For many kids the camp fee would put a camp experience out of their reach, let alone the money it would take to purchase the supplies required for that experience. Myers-Wilkins CSC assists students with paperwork for financial assistance and registration. Then, once a child is accepted to the camp, Myers-Wilkins CSC provides them with all the supplies they need to take with them, from a sleeping bag, sheet and pillow to toiletries. This is another place where items they receive through the Heart of Hospitality Program come in handy. Without Econo-Lodge as a reliable and continuous source, items like toiletries or sheets might have to be purchased with valuable organization funds or gotten through other sources. It’s always better to not have to worry about where or who your sources are. That way a family can send their child to camp without stressing about the cost. And the youth can spend the time learning fishing and archery, expanding their horizons, cultivating self-confidence, and obtaining an appreciation for lifelong learning.

(Photo provided by Meyers-Wilkins CSC)

Myers-Wilkins CSC has many more programs for both youth and families listed on their website.  After all, they have a lot of goals to reach. “We strengthen academic skills, value diversity, teach youth how to get along well with others, set and attain goals, work as a team, develop extra-curricular interests, and increase their sense of belonging.  All of which increase the likelihood that they will stay in school.” The Heart of Hospitality Program and Econo Lodge are proud to be a partner.


Econo Lodge

When Debbie Bachinski, the General Manager of the Econo Lodge, first learned about the Heart of Hospitality Program, it was an easy decision to jump onboard. On their website, they state that “This Duluth hotel cares about the environment and has taken active steps to support green hotel practices.”  Debbie clearly feels it’s the responsible thing to do as a hotel. When she spoke to her staff about implementing the amenity donation program they needed no convincing. Her staff was happy to hear that they would be helping out their community. They developed a simple system to collect and sort the gently used amenities to be delivered to the Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative. With 87 rooms they can collect a good-sized file-box in about a month.

Like other hotels, they routinely update their bedding as required by their parent company (Choice Hotels). Whereas they used to toss the old bedding into the dumpster, they were able to pass on some of it to their partner for their latest transition.  In the past, Debbie out of her way to donate used bedding to the Harbor House in Superior, where she grew up and where her heart still lies. Now, with their reliable partnership with Myers-Wilkins CSC, through the HOHP, they have a dedicated source for their donations. Just in case they have more items than can be utilized by their partner, the HOHP has resources to make it easy for Econo Lodge to find them a home.

Econo Lodge’s green practices won’t stop there. They recently phased out styrofoam cups and have a goal to eliminate straws from their food service facility. They are, clearly, always thinking!



Damiano Center/Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark

Damiano Center

img_3830-1.jpgThe Damiano Center has been serving the people of Duluth for 36 years and is the largest community kitchen in northeastern Minnesota. Although feeding the hungry is their primary focus and original mission, just like many organizations that assist people with emergency needs, they offer an array of programs to address the whole of a person or family’s situation. Whether a person or family is in crisis, or in need of long-term assistance, the center offers an array of services and more importantly, hope and respect.

The Community Kitchen serves 200 – 400 people per meal and thirteen meals a week, which comes to about 113,800 trays last year. As they put it “No questions are asked of the people who come for a meal, and everyone is welcome to eat until they are satisfied.”

Their Kids Kitchen is a drop-in, after-school program that welcomes kids, families, and guardians. This program offers meals, snacks, art supplies, physical activities, homework assistance and more.

Donations are always being accepted for their Free Store, which started out as a clothing exchange but has grown to offer household goods, appliances, and furniture. All items in the store are donated and given away free of charge to those in need. Now, many of the items they receive through their HOHP partner, the Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark are distributed through this store.

For those people looking for a job who need more of a professional look, the Clothes that Work program provides business apparel for interviews and those beginning a new job.

The Health Realization program “helps individuals manage stress in a positive way. It is used by those who are looking to recover from addiction as well as other life issues enabling a more positive perspective to move forward.

The Community Services program provides information, referrals, and assistance with emergency needs and resources to overcome the many obstacles that families and individuals might encounter that inhibit recovery from their situation: homelessness, chemical dependency, domestic abuse, unemployment, mental health issues.

1,251 received free hygiene items from Community Services last year. Who they serve: • 33% are supporting children • 9% are veterans • 31% are employed • 57% have physical health issues or a disability • 73% have a mental health issue • 58% are not able to see a dentist regularly • 29% are homeless or are precariously housed • 24% of guests use Clothes That Work to retain their employment

Other organizations that are tenants in the Damiano Center Building, help facilitate them being a “one stop shop”. The center can refer clients to BikePlus, Bois Fort Urban Office, Duluth Community Garden Program, Heart for the People, or Mentor Duluth Praxis International for assistance. They also partner with Duluth Community Garden Program for the Summer Food Corps, which offers youth employment training in gardening, food service, childcare, leadership skills and STEM (science, technology, Engineering, Math) skills.

There are so many things that the average person takes for granted that assist them in their everyday lives: Being able to make a simple phone call, receive mail, keep up your hygiene, fill your car with gas or use the bus to get to appointments, having access to a computer and knowing how to use it. The Damiano Center is prepared to help with all these things, and many of their programs require little or no information from participants. It’s clear that the center wants their clients to feel safe from judgment and empowered to overcome any obstacles to their personal goals.

Of course, the Damiano Center’s success relies heavily on community support, generous donors and lots of volunteers (800!) Products like soap, shampoo, lotion, and toothpaste are more things that the average person takes for granted. It’s difficult to hold a job or even find a job when you don’t have access to these simple items. The Damiano Center was eager to jump onboard with the Heart of Hospitality Program when they heard about it. They had received hospitality items from hotels in the past, but now they have a steady supply from their partner, the Edgewater Hotel and Water Park.

(For more details on the Damiano Center programs, visit their website at

The Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark

When Jason Miller, General Manager at the Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark, heard about the Heart of Hospitality Program, he knew instantly that it would be a good fit for the hotel. They have given away their gently used items in the past, but it took some work calling organizations to see if they could use the available items. Now, there is consistency to their donations to the Damiano Center. They collect a generous amount of blankets, sheets, and towels every couple of weeks and generally, have 3-4 large boxes of amenities each time they deliver to the center.

How difficult would it be to get his staff onboard and ensure that items were collected on a regular basis, Jason wondered. Would it be difficult to make this collecting routine? He had no reason to worry. His staff was happy to know that they would be helping the community and it only took a minor tweak or two to their regular housekeeping routine. Things have been running smoothly since then.

The HOHP obviously has the added benefit of reducing the waste that the hotel generates, helping the community, and making his staff proud, which makes it a no-brainer to join the program. Jason says that they are always trying to make their business more sustainable. They have switched to LED lighting to save energy and are working on a recycling program as well.

One thing he would like a solution to is the bar soap waste that they generate. He estimates that they toss about 500 per week at the Edgewater. While there are organizations that melt-down discarded and gently used bar soaps nationally, shipping the soap is expensive. With all the crafty, talented, artisans in the Duluth area, perhaps there is someone who would like to take that on locally? We’ll just leave that out there…


Two Harbors Area Food Shelf/Canal Park Lodge

The Two Harbors Area Food Shelf (THAFS) was founded over thirty years ago as part of the Minnesota Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Association (AEOA). It has gone through many changes since then, from becoming a separate 501C3 to relocating to a place that has allowed them to expand and ad community gardens to their program. Their mission is to “Reduce hunger and improve the health of people in need by providing food and other resources at no cost”. Michelle Miller, the Executive Director, was the only person on-staff until just recently when she got a grant to allow her to hire a volunteer coordinator. They rely on around 54 volunteers to keep their food shelf up and running.

This is one of two storage rooms at THAFS. Due to limited space, products are stored in two small storage rooms. Each Tuesday a group of volunteers come in and move the food, setting up the shopping area. At the end of the day it’s all put away again. Whew! That’s a lot of work, and it requires a lot of wonderful, dedicated volunteers.

Michelle is trying her best to break down the stereotypes of who typically uses food shelves. As she spreads the world that there is no judgement on those that use their services, and as the stigmas associated with food shelves diminishes, they have seen an uptick in clients. They served about 4,008 individuals/424households last year, and many of those were people who had never used their services before. 85% of those households have one or two incomes. Some of their clients just need THAFS to get through a crisis while others have a long-term need.

Personal Care Products THAFSAs their mission states, they try to assist their clients with more than just food. Since they share a building with the AEOA they can provide people with information, and assist in connecting them to housing and other programs. They also carry basic necessities for personal care and other non-food items. The problem is that their funding is mainly from grants, and the money from those grants can only be used for THAFS to purchase food. They rely on individual donations and for everything else.

It’s for this reason that programs like HOHP can make a big difference to them. THAFS has received 4 bags of linens and a box of shampoos and conditioners from the Canal Park Lodge. That may not seem like much, but to those who have nothing, it makes a huge difference. Michelle marveled at the quality of the items they received. The standard of quality for hotel linens is high and even the discarded ones are very nice. Michelle smiled, commenting that they were better than the ones she uses at home.

The food shelf is always looking for ways to improve their storage capacity (they distributed 111,338 lbs. of food in 2017), which is relegated to a couple of tiny rooms. They’ve gotten a freezer donated from a local restaurant, implemented a garden program that enables them to have fresh food available to clients. It’s important to remember that they don’t receive money from the city or county, but rely on grants and individual donations.

Gardens provide fresh produce for the THAFS

Michelle also believes in the importance of having a strong network of people in the community. Prior to working with HOHP she had never received hospitality items from any hotels. One local hotel did a fundraiser for them where they donated part of the profits from their rooms that were booked during the fundraiser. It brought and awareness to their guests about the needs of the THAFB and guests ended up writing separate checks to contribute to the fundraiser.

While Michelle continues to break down the stigma of food shelves and teach that there is no judgment on the people they welcome to their shelves, she many times gets “goosebumps” when she sees the generosity of the community. She continues to build relationships and find connections in the community and is interested to see where the HOHP network will go, and what it might inspire in the future.