How A Small Minneapolis Organization Distributes Nearly A Quarter Million Meals Each Year

Posted by GreaterGoodness

In April 2015, after 30 years in the business of distributing food to hungry families in Minneapolis, one wall of its building was bulldozed. This event, from April 2015, was a celebration of the facility’s $5 million expansion. Bulldozing the wall was part of the facility’s $5 million expansion, the goal of which is to make room for eight more apartments to house homeless families. The charity also added a new children’s center and teen center on the main floor below the apartments, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The destruction of the old wing and the building of a glistening new wing shows how the tenacity of one person can change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

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What the Facility Does

Sharing & Caring Hands distributes more than 375,000 pounds of food to needy families in the Minneapolis area every year. This amounts to more than 240,000 meals annually. While this figure represents an amazing accomplishment on its own, Mary Jo Copeland’s charity does much more than provide physical nourishment. The facility improves the quality of life of the neediest and most vulnerable citizens in the metro area.

The mission statement of the organization lists other needs the nonprofit meets. Copeland founded the group in 1985 as a safety net for people who could not get any more help from government agencies. Sharing & Caring Hands provides clothing for people who cannot afford new outfits. More than 500 homeless people, mostly children, may stay in 100 rooms within the building until they can find more permanent housing situations. The charity gives people transportation assistance, medical checkups, basic dental work and a safe place where kids can hang out to stay off the street.

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The nonprofit serves more than 20,000 people per month and spends more than $400,000 in 30 days. Remarkably, the shelter does not take a dime of grant money from the state or federal government. The charity runs completely on donations, including the time of its volunteers. Every cent goes towards helping needy families as much as possible. Copeland leads by example since she has not given herself a salary in the 30 years she has helped the poorest citizens of Minneapolis.

Sharing & Caring Hands distributes more than 375,000 pounds of food to needy families in the Minneapolis area every year. This amounts to more than 240,000 meals annually.

Copeland’s Story

Copeland, nicknamed “Street Mother” by locals, saw a need in her city in the early 1980s when she started volunteering with Catholic Charities after her youngest child started school. Copeland used, and continues to develop, her connections with local Catholic churches as a way to recruit volunteers. Parishioners buy, prepare and serve lunch to people at the facility every day. A different church group serves food on a given day, a system that has been in place at Sharing & Caring Hands since day one.

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Ten years after starting her charity, the charity built a homeless shelter at a cost of $7.5 million in the downtown area. The facility has expanded several times since then, with the most recent one in the summer of 2015. The shelter has been a fixture in the downtown area despite new developments that sprang up nearby.

Current Success

Local officials, such as city council member Lisa Goodman, attribute Copeland’s success to her love of children. Goodman sees the mother of 12 as an inspiration to other community members thanks to her continued tenacity. The addition of Target Field to the downtown area five years ago brought new visibility to Sharing & Caring Hands in its distinctive blue building. Donations subsequently increased, even as the country recovered from the Great Recession.

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The 72-year-old Copeland has received several awards for her hard work, including the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2013. The medal, given to her by President Barack Obama, represents the second-highest civilian honor bestowed on Americans. Perhaps the greatest testament to Copeland’s legacy lies in the children she helped. Nalee Lor stood in line at Sharing & Caring Hands with her mother waiting for breakfast at just 5 years old in 1991. Now, the 29-year-old volunteers as Copeland’s assistant.


Imagine what ordinary citizens can do with an extraordinary effort every day. Copeland has helped improve the quality of life of millions of people in the past 30 years. She even did this while raising six boys and six girls alongside her husband. If everyone had a single ounce of Copeland’s love and dedication to helping the less fortunate, what could happen to the lives touched by this type of charity?

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