The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Twin Cities, a small social enterprise, did a lot of good during a most-challenging 2020.
The fiscal 2020 income statement reveals that St. Vinnie's posted a surplus of about $75,000 on net revenue of $1 million, largely from thrift store, recycling sales and cash contributions.
However, those numbers belie something approaching $20 million in donated clothing, housewares and 8 million pounds of food provided to thousands of unemployed and working-poor Twin Citians by 28 employees and 30-plus business and other volunteers, backed by several supermarkets and food wholesalers.
"It's kind of a 'loaves-and-fishes' story around here," said Wayne Bugg, associate executive director and 25-year veteran of the society. "We're seeing double, triple the number of people coming for food."
The coronavirus pandemic shut down St. Vincent's stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul for weeks last spring and summer. However, demand for its services skyrocketed amid the resulting recession, rampant joblessness and suffering.
The E. Lake Street store was looted and vandalized in May, during the riots that followed protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody. The damage occurred just as employees were finishing a remodel of the 25-year-old store.
St. Vincent's, rooted in a number of Twin Cities Catholic parishes, proves that the discarded merchandise and dated food can still fill a need.
In 1994, an Assumption parish volunteer in Richfield, Ed Koerner, answered a call of the heart and quit a good job in the paint industry to take a big pay cut to become executive director. Koerner, 61, started to slowly build a "last mile" network of physical, emotional and spiritual support for those in need. It includes self-supporting thrift stores, with free vouchers given to nonprofits who send their clients for clothes for kids and adults. There's also "Vinnie's Hope," a truck with 300,000 miles on it that is used to collect food and redistribute it to food pantries and shelters.
Pat Kaiser, a veteran Twin Cities businessman, joined the St. Vincent team as a volunteer and board member eight years ago. He said he has long been impressed with an outfit that treats all with dignity, that hires and trains those who once lacked hope, and which provides health insurance and $80 worth of groceries weekly for full-time employees, most of whom make at least $15 an hour.
"We keep our overhead low and are able to act as a food bank for many food shelves by offering bulk food at no charge," said Kaiser, the St. Vincent's board chairman for six years. "Our mission of helping our neighbors in need, combined with our proven and sustainable business model continues to appeal to me."
Bugg, 42, is a onetime teenage drug peddler from Chicago. His parents were aimless addicts. He was sent to live with an aunt in Minneapolis. A St. Vincent volunteer and member of the Church of the Holy Name in nearby Powderhorn Park accompanied Bugg to the store to get some clothes and an internship in 1997.
"I was 17 years old and I was scared at first," Bugg recalled. "I had lost hope. But this man told me they needed help at the store and that I needed something to do.
"They started paying me $5 an hour. It was January. I did a lot of snow shoveling in the parking lot, moving furniture in and out of the store and handled clothing. I learned how to be a cashier. I never really decided to stay. It's just been sort of an evolution."
Bugg, encouraged by Koerner and others, earned his GED and then, with financial support of strangers who became friends, earned a degree in business from Metropolitan State University.
Bugg, who lives with his family about a mile from the store, has risen to No. 2 executive at St. Vincent. He will succeed Koerner in a couple of years. Koerner, who is paid $40,000 a year, is thankful for his recently retired, better-paid spouse, who paid the lion's share of family bills.
"I will be a volunteer," Koerner said of retirement. "I'll do anything except drive trucks. Done with that."
Bugg, a good manager and riveting speaker, also is an ace driver of "Vinnie's Hope," the cranky 2001 Freightliner truck.
Koerner last week received a $61,000 insurance check to cover the cost of vandalism to the thrift store on Lake Street in 2020. The repairs and renovation, accomplished with donations and some volunteers, was led by clipboard-wielding Bugg. The insurance funds will cover about half the cost of a $124,000, late-model refrigerated truck for food distribution.
"Wayne is really talented," Koerner said of his successor. "We gave Wayne opportunity and encouragement. He listens, thinks fast and speaks slowly. And he's really good at resolving disputes."