Bridge on 7th shelter seeks volunteers for year 2
The shelter on South Seventh Street is open each night from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.
BRAINERD — Community members stepped up to make Brainerd’s warming shelter a success in its second year, but there is still room for those who want to serve their neighbors.
The Bridge on 7th opened Sept. 15 this year and has already had almost as many unique guests as during the 147 nights it operated last winter.
“The homeless problem, even from what I thought when I took this job, is bigger than we all imagined,” shelter director Ann Hunnicutt said Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Last year, the shelter provided 76 different adults with a warm place to sleep. As of Tuesday, it had already served 72 people this year.
Open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., Bridge on 7th is located on South Seventh Street and has 20 beds and 10 overflow mats available for 30 adults to sleep each night.
The nonprofit Bridges of Hope spearheaded the effort to open the shelter last year, working alongside several organizations, churches and other community partners.
“There was large support from the community that came together, came up with ideas of how they wanted the shelter to look, what would be successful, what would make the biggest impact,” Hunnicutt said. “And what this group envisioned is actually turning out to be super, super rewarding and super needed in this community. And we couldn’t do it without all the support from everybody.”
While the shelter has some paid employees, like Hunnicutt, volunteers are imperative to allow it to function as it does. This year, Hunnicutt is asking for groups — such as churches, business or other organizations — to sign up for a week of volunteering at a time to fill the shelter’s needs.
Each group is responsible for covering 14 shifts — one each night and one each morning — for the week. A lead person from each group coordinates with Hunnicutt and communicates with the rest of the volunteers to ease the director’s workload.
“That lead volunteer can be one person that comes to me with all the questions,” Hunnicutt said.
They’re all human beings. And they all have a story.
The system has worked out well so far, and Hunnicutt said she enjoys seeing the wide breadth of volunteers who come to the shelter.
“Every volunteer is so different,” she said. “You have some that want to work with the people and visit. You have some that just want to come and help with the computer end of things or to clean, or they don’t want that social aspect. You have some that can do it all pretty easily. So it’s fun to see each volunteer and what role they fill the best.”
Hunnicutt said she hopes every volunteer and every person who has donated to the shelter — whether it be time, money, coffee or even prayers — understands the impact they have on their community. The vast majority of those who use Bridge on 7th already live in the area and aren’t coming into Brainerd from elsewhere, which was one of the concerns brought up before the shelter opened.
Some guests might be out-of-towners who need a place to stay after being released from jail or a treatment program, but they typically just spend one night and then move on.
The guests are no different than anyone else in the community, Hunnicutt said, and are in a position where so many others could find themselves after just one injury or missed paycheck.
“They’re all human beings,” she said. “And they all have a story.”
Anyone who wants to be a part of that story through volunteering or donations can call Bridges of Hope at 218-825-7682 and ask for Hunnicutt or visit bridgesofhopemn.org/warmingshelter .
Beginning Dec. 7, donations for Bridge on 7th can be dropped off from 1-3 p.m. every Wednesday at the shelter, 1926 S. Seventh St., Brainerd.
Guests looking to stay at the shelter can walk in from 7-11 p.m. each night and will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. There is no limit to the number of times a person can use the shelter.
“It’s been an absolute blessing for this community,” Hunnicutt said.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.