Longevity, leadership and love

LaDonna Hoy
LaDonna Hoy, executive director of Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners, spoke at the organization’s 2018 Great Expectations Breakfast.

LaDonna Hoy has spent the past four decades trying to help the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the afflicted — all in the shadow of some of the wealthiest suburbs in the Twin Cities.

She’s had thousands and thousands of takers.

Hoy, now in her 80s, is the executive director of the Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners.

What started as an organization she helped create at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Wayzata is now a $9 million-a-year nonprofit with a staff of 52 and a board of 24, including some heavy hitters from surrounding communities.

This month the organization will celebrate its 40th anniversary. And she’s not thinking of leaving her post anytime soon.

“We are inspired by our clients,” she said. “They have resilience, faith and hope. They love their kids and want them to have a good education. They come here because they want the best for them.”

LaDonna Hoy

The organization occupies a 40,000-square-foot building in Plymouth and works with government agencies, school districts, other non-profits, churches, synagogues and mosques to provide services, including food shelves, emergency housing assistance, transportation, kids’ summer camps, art classes and parenting groups.

“We still have our challenges to do more. We need to provide better housing opportunities, more help for their kids in school and better meet their mental health needs,” Hoy said. “So, no; my work isn’t finished.”

Almost 2,000 volunteers provide the energy, enthusiasm and expertise. Hoy has the leadership skills and longevity to make it all work for those who struggle in Hamel, Long Lake, Medina, Minnetonka Beach, Orono, Plymouth and Wayzata.

Those communities wouldn’t be on my radar for emergency housing and food shelves. But I would be wrong. According to figures from Interfaith, 14 percent of residents living there have incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

Hoy wants to do something about that. Interfaith’s goal stands for all to see on its website: “Imagine what it would be like if everywhere a family or child or a stranger showed up, they would find a heartfelt welcome and invitation to be part of a community becoming the best version of itself.”

It’s a lofty goal that resonates with volunteers like Dottie Merriam from Wayzata, who’s been with Hoy from the beginning.

Interfaith: Dottie and Laura Merriam
Interfaith: Dottie and Laura Merriam

“Home and community are one and the same,” said Merriam, who represents one of three generations of her family to volunteer with Interfaith.

“We are very fortunate to be in a community where there are smart people who have the heart, the will and the means to step up and get this to happen,” Hoy said. “They understand that tough times can happen to anyone. All of us know a whole lot of people who made our achievements possible.”

From December 2018 through February 2019, 1,957 volunteers worked 67,235 hours stacking food shelves, mentoring kids, working at the organization’s resale store and giving rides. One of them, Tom Finke of Wayzata, started in 2009 as a volunteer driver. Now he’s designed a database to help match ride requests with volunteer drivers.

“I’ve always felt the act of volunteering was similar to the BOGO (Buy One Get One free) deal,” he said. “When you buy into volunteering, you help your own character in addition to helping the person you’re focused on.”

Hoy’s life is a testament to her belief that poverty and problems know no geographic boundaries, and those who offer hope and help often find their own lives are the ones enriched.

It strikes me that we all ought to be glad Hoy is not the retiring kind.

Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to [email protected].