The 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.
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 http://www.damianocenter.org)
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…