The past two years have been cruel. But it's the kindness Randy Flowers will remember.
On the coldest days, on the nights the city choked on tear gas, Flowers and the homeless outreach teams from St. Stephen's Human Services were out offering survival gear, a kind word, a safe haven, a new start.
They couldn't have done it without you.
"Minneapolis should feel proud," Flowers said. "People stood up. We can talk about what we did, but the community supported us in doing this."
The measure of a man or woman, Flowers believes, is what they do when nobody's looking.
While nobody was looking — while everybody was on lockdown, or binge-watching "Tiger King," or trying to figure out how to mute their Zoom mic — people showed up at St. Stephen's back door with crates of water or with stacks of gift cards, then walked away without even asking for a donation receipt.
The pandemic raged and Minneapolis burned and people slept in the parks because there was nowhere else to go. But always, there were people who showed up to help out.
Flowers remembers the box of N-95 masks that arrived like a miracle in the early days of the pandemic, back when no one could get masks and the only protection the street outreach team had was makeshift bandannas.
And the Minneapolis police officer and his family who delivered homemade lunches to St. Stephen's every day for seven or eight months.
This is the time of year we think about helping the helpers.
"Over the past year, during times when human connection is more precious than gold, our outreach team touched the lives of over 3,500 people," said Michelle Perrin, St. Stephen's director of outreach and shelter. In a single year, they found shelter for hundreds of individuals and families.
Give to the Max Day is coming up on Thursday. There are so many amazing groups and causes. This is your reminder that it's possible for one act of kindness to change someone's life.
Just like St. Stephen's changed Randy Flowers' life.
On a subzero winter day, not too many years ago, Flowers was on the streets, homeless, trying to find a little warmth at the bottom of a bottle. Outreach workers coaxed him to come in for an assessment and within days, he found himself sober, standing in an apartment of his own, and feeling hope for the first time in a long time.
He stopped drinking and started volunteering at St. Stephen's. He earned his master's degree during the pandemic and he will soon start work toward a Ph.D.
He understands how it feels to be cold, to be hungry, to try to sleep on a city bus, to say hello to someone on the street and to have them walk by as if he were invisible.
"There are no invisible people," Flowers said. "Everyone has a story."
If you listen, people will tell you what they need. Like the mother, sleeping in a broken truck with her four children, who needed $680 to fix the truck so she could work.
Sometimes, if you listen, the stories will break your heart. Like the young woman who asked Flowers for a bottle of water and some toothpaste, because she was hungry. She'd learned when she was a little girl that if you swallow enough toothpaste, you won't feel as hungry anymore.
St. Stephen's was able to help the community, he said, because the community helped St. Stephen's.
"I want to say thank you," he said. "We were blessed. What you gave to us, we gave to our clients."
Give to the Max Day is on Thursday, but early donations are welcome at givemn.org.