This year’s blistering winter is no match for hundreds of fearless Minnesotans who — by sleeping outside for one night this winter — raised a record $2 million for a Wayzata nonprofit serving low-income families.

About 700 cold-weather warriors, including students, religious groups and business leaders, spent teeth-chattering nights in tents in November and December to raise funds for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners.

Donations for the 2013 SleepOut, which continue through the end of March, have broken last year’s record of $1.9 million, said Jill Kohler, the nonprofit’s development director. A surprise $200,000 that arrived in January tilted the scales.

“This community is just awesome,” said LaDonna Hoy, executive director of Interfaith Outreach.

The sleepout was started 18 years ago by Wayzata businessman Bob Fisher. From one man with a vision, it has been transformed into an annual philanthropy tradition for hundreds of Twin Cities residents. It has raised more than $19 million.

During the six weeks of sleepouts, small tent villages pop up at schools, churches and businesses around the metro. Youngsters in religious education classes, for example, sleep in front of their churches so they can talk to parishioners in the morning or participate in the Sunday service, Kohler said.

Student groups tend to sleep on their school grounds, she said, and corporate volunteers also tend to stay close to the office doors, she said.

Among the big groups this year: The Cargill/General Mills sleepout had about 100 people, said Kohler. St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church in Plymouth rallied about 60 hardy souls. A Wayzata after-school program drew about 50 middle school students.

The fundraiser now raises half the annual costs for the organization’s services to low-income families, said Kohler, including its food shelf and assistance with housing, jobs, transportation and child care.

“It’s really caught fire,” said Kohler. “It’s been quite a ride.”


Jean Hopfensperger 612 673-4511