Bike Cave, half under demolition.
The Loaves & Fishes volunteer community in Duluth has formed a nonprofit branch to deal with upkeep on its houses and other properties that provide food and shelter for the homeless and other at-risk people.
In a letter to supporters this month, longtime community volunteer Joel Kilgour announced the new entity, Loaves & Fishes Housing Inc., is designed to pay for repairs and upgrades to four houses, two community gardens and a bike shop. The original Loaves & Fishes organization will continue to operate its services separate from the housing nonprofit designation, which comes with federal restrictions on advocacy and political activity.
Loaves & Fishes has told supporters the incorporation has a “narrow mission of legally owning its own houses.”
Kilgour said community support for the housing nonprofit idea has been positive. “It’s new territory,” he said. “It doesn’t change the fundamental nature of what we do.”
He said the nonprofit arm is simply a way of “navigating the world as it is. It’s a matter of stewardship.”
On its website, Loaves & Fishes stressed what won’t change outside of the nonprofit status. “What it will not do is make any decision of the community about how to provide hospitality, how to organize or resist, how to live together, how to run the Bike Cave.”
The new 501(c)(3) nonprofit will allow funds donated to be tax deductible, an option Kilgour said has been asked for repeatedly since the community was founded in 1989 by Steve O’Neil and Angie Miller.
Kilgour said major repairs are needed on the Dorothy Day House, the home that was used when the community was founded 28 years ago to house war refugees and the homeless.
Dorothy Day has 10 overnight guests and a growing number of people who use it for showers, laundry and meals, Kilgour said. It also houses the Bike Cave in its basement. A growing interest in that service, which provides no-cost bicycles and repairs, requires upgrading and better using the space in the basement, he said.
A new water heater and boiler were recently installed at Dorothy Day House.
Loaves & Fishes expects the Dorothy Day basement repairs to cost $25,000. It has already replaced the heating system and begun demolition in the basement to make room for a bathroom, expanded laundry, storage lockers, more usable Bike Cave space, and a new stairwell to the main house.
That’s the first phase, Kilgour said. Improvements in the Dorothy Day kitchen are also on the wish list.
Kilgour said the community has prided itself on “personal sacrifice” of volunteers and donors without a reward such as the tax-deductible option. Things changed given the scope of repairs needed on its properties.
He said finding money month-to-month for basic bills has always been “precarious,” noting the houses were old to begin with. “We need to invest in them properly,” he said.
Kilgour said any donations made to the nonprofit by the end of the year will be matched by an anonymous donor. He said property improvement donations in increments of $100 are the easiest to handle for the bookkeeping required.
The matching money from the longtime donor, who was inspired by the nonprofit decision, is a rare and generous opportunity, Kilgour said.
Smaller donations and items — and volunteering — will continue to be accepted for the day-to-day needs of the houses outside of the building projects. A list of needs can be found on the group’s website.
The Duluth Loaves & Fishes remains an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff, relying solely on community contributions.
The nonprofit arm will be run by a six-member board that includes Kilgour and Donna Howard as co-chairs. Three members are live-in volunteers and three come from outside the group. The other members are Chelsea Froemke, Anne Rogotszke, Liz Carlson and Jeff Corey.
Loaves & Fishes communities, based on the Catholic Worker tradition, have historically avoided the government oversight that comes with nonprofit status. The Duluth group is replicating other Loaves & Fishes communities across the country that apply for nonprofit status with the IRS to deal with specific aspects of its work. The Minneapolis community is a nonprofit but its sole mission is to provide meals for the needy.
Duluth Loaves & Fishes told supporters it’s a mixed bag when it comes to communities turning to nonprofit status. “Some are and some are not. We choose to keep the tradition of being a simple grassroots community of people and relegating our property to a nonprofit. We are carefully distinguishing between our two entities and limiting the purview of the new one.”
The growing use of its facilities is the driver in the effort to shore up the properties, Kilgour said. “We’re responding to community need.”
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