Tyrone Richards, a Fridley father of three, stood on the athletic fields outside Spring Lake Park High School on Saturday, gripping the first portrait taken of him and his children together.
“This looks better than anything I can do on my expensive phone,” Richards said of the print, a copy of which he plans to send to family in Liberia. It’s something he said they could touch and hold.
The Richards family were among those whose cars lined neighborhood streets for a day of free food, goods and services offered by the Convoy of Hope, a national faith-based nonprofit.
Up to 1,500 local volunteers donned blue T-shirts to greet residents at the daylong event. There were tents offering free shoes, a job fair, health services and an inflatable carnival for children. Each adult left with at least two full bags of groceries.
Convoy of Hope, which visited Ferguson, Mo., last weekend, is aimed at resource-strapped parents who often must decide whether to go to the doctor or feed their children, spokesman Jeff Nene said.
“We try to give them the opportunity to do both today,” he said.
After her kids were fitted with new shoes for the school year, Tanisha Oats hugged her best friend, Nikki Hansen, as they left the children’s shoes tent.
Oats, of Mounds View, called the day “a lifesaver.” For some, it may literally be so. Before visiting the shoe tent, Oats and Hansen checked out the National Breast Cancer Foundation tent, where they learned how to perform self-exams and sign up for checkup reminders.
“We’re leaving here knowing something,” Oats said.
Nene said volunteers distributed up to 135,000 fliers in the month leading up to Saturday’s event. He said that as it decides where to bring its caravan, Convoy of Hope staff work with community members to identify “pockets of need” all over the country.
“In a city as large as Minneapolis-St. Paul, there’s lots of pockets,” he said.
Julie Jeppson, development director of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing in Anoka, said need is difficult to identify north of the metro, where her shelter is the only such service for Anoka County’s homeless.
“In the suburbs up here, you can’t see it,” she said.
Richards said he figured everyone wearing the blue Convoy T-shirts had an extra shot of caffeine Saturday. When he arrived, he counted nearly a half-dozen volunteers greeting and helping direct his family inside. Hansen, of New Brighton, said the event took on a much different feel than she got while visiting food shelves, which she said can sometimes be an embarrassing trip.
“When you’re here, you don’t feel like you’re needy,” Hansen said.