Thanksgiving overflows

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” —2 Corinthians 4:15-16

Each year, families in need throughout the Brainerd Lakes Area are able to share a Thanksgiving meal thanks to the generosity of many in our community.

Nine years ago, Bridges of Hope began a seasonal campaign pairing donors with families in need each Thanksgiving. Donors provide a turkey and accompanying side dishes, and deliver to their ‘adopted family’ just prior to Thanksgiving Thursday.

(It’s) super rewarding,” commented one donor. “I was able to provide two meals and lots of extras with the help of my great friends and family. The tears of joy from  one of the moms we gave to was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. She was BEYOND grateful! Amazing!”pie

Referrals come in to Bridges of Hope of families in need by a variety of organizations throughout the area. Bridges staff solicits interested individuals willing to donate a meal, and then pair families with sponsors based on geographic area and any other preferences a sponsor may have.

Bridges of Hope Program Specialist Janelle Vesely said while the number of sponsors varies from year to year, the need for meals continues to be great.

At this point, we are on track to serve 200-plus households,” she noted. “If that is the case we still need more sponsors; specifically in the Crosby, Deerwood and Ironton area.”

In 2016, the Thanksgiving Meals program:

    • Served 222 households consisting of 947 people
      • 556 children (0-17)
      • 391 adults (18+)
    • Found the largest household served was 14 people
    • Found the average household size was 4


Consider making the holidays a little brighter for someone. The deadline to sponsor a family is November 15th. For additional information, call Bridges of Hope or visit

–Written by Jenny Holmes with assistance from Janelle Vesely

What Does it Mean to Hope?

What does it mean to hope?I Hope button

For some, it’s the thought of building a dream home, or perhaps it’s anticipating an acceptance letter to your son or daughter’s first-choice college. It might be hoping for sunshine on a special day.

For others, it means knowing you’ll have a warm meal tonight, the resources to afford a new coat or warm pair of boots for your child this winter, or having somewhere to call after the storm hits.

This summer, many found themselves in hope of assistance when an unprecedented windstorm damaged countless homes, uprooted trees, and changed the landscape of the Lakes Area forever.

Last week, we launched our fall campaign, simply titled “I Hope.” We want you to know that you can make a difference for your neighbors in the Lakes Area, like Patti.


Photo credit: Biff Ulm

Patti never imagined she would look to a nonprofit organization for assistance. But the evening of July 12th changed her life—and perspective—forever. With 90 mph straight-line winds and even stronger gusts, Patti lost between 60 and 70 percent of the trees at her home on the north side of North Long Lake. It was both a physical and emotional loss for Patti, as trees that dated back over 100 years were one of the favorite things about her property.

 “I used to lay outside and look up at those trees. They made such beautiful sounds. When I first saw the damage, I just started crying. I know I didn’t get the absolute worst of it and there were others who had much worse. But it was horrendous.”


Photo credit: Biff Ulm

 As a widow, Patti was at a loss as to how she would afford to safely clear the trees that once towered 80 feet above her home. That’s when a neighbor suggested she call Bridges of Hope for assistance. Within days, a crew of volunteers and equipment arrived at Patti’s house and worked tirelessly to get things back in order.

Patti had this to say about Bridges of Hope and the volunteers who helped, “They were a Godsend. It was just a miracle. You talk about what God can do in one day, and I felt that’s what they did for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they could do what they did in one day.”

In the days and weeks following the storm, Bridges of Hope worked with over 140 Lakes Area households who had been directly impacted by the storm. We are so grateful for the incredible support during that time that enabled us to respond to these needs in addition to our typical services.

You are the reason we exist and are able to extend the love and grace of God to more than 2,500 households annually. Today, we ask you to support our work with more than 300 households who will reach out to Bridges still this year. When you make a gift to our “I Hope” campaign, you make it possible for us to serve your friends, family, and neighbors in the Lakes Area during their time of need.

During this time of year, synonymous with giving, you can help us reach our $60,000 goal from now until December 31st, and make a real difference in the lives of individuals just like you and me. Give to the Max Day is on Thursday November 12th. For your convenience, you can schedule your donation ahead of time!


Thank you for helping us build Bridges & bring HOPE to the Lakes Area! 

I Hope button

Thanks to You…

We are having another record-breaking year here at Bridges of Hope. So far this year, we have been able to serve 2,662 households (and counting!), as well as a staggering 17,944 households since our founding in 2002!

And all of that is because of you: it’s the donors that truly make the difference at Bridges. This past week I asked our staff to articulate specifically what your support has enabled us to do. Here’s what they said:

Thanks to you, this year…

  • Alex was able to help someone who is going through a complete life change have at least one less stressor in their life.
  • Dar was able to provide parenting support such as Love & Logic and parent coaching for the high-risk families she works with in their homes.
  • Erica was able to stay up-to-date on the best practices that enable her to visit families in their homes and teach them the skills necessary for them to be able to live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
  • Jacklin was able to help a 21-year-old veteran resettle in Minnesota after a messy divorce: because Bridges of Hope could pay for new tabs on her car, she was able to continue driving legally while she works on getting her life resettled.
  • Janelle was able to support and educate teen parents–as well as work with over 2,800 households in the last five years–and is thankful for the impact they have had on her.
  • Michele was able to ensure that Bridges of Hope can focus its programs on family preservation and keeping families strong.
  • Meghann was able to help the victims of house fires with the resources and assistance to meet both their immediate needs (food, clothing, and temporary shelter) and their longer-term  needs (new housing and furnishings).
  • Bridges of Hope has been able to create amazing “Moments” like Dustyne’s story. You can even see a brief, personal thank-you from Dustyne herself here:

Clearly this is just a tiny snapshot of the HUGE impact we have been able to have in our community, thanks to you. We are so grateful for your support, because it enables us to impact multiple generations: by improving the lives of parents we know we’re improving the lives of children, too.

We are so thankful that all year long, YOU, our donors, have been entrusting your gifts with us; because you understand the importance of Bridges being able to be flexible, creative, and able to respond to every household’s situation uniquely.

Online fundraising for Bridges of Hope Fall Campaign - 60K in 60 DaysHere at Bridges of Hope, we are ALL thankful that we have such supportive donors who understand that the need is great, and because of that, you have again responded this fall with gifts to support this work. We thank YOU for helping US build Bridges!

From all of us at Bridges of Hope, thank you for your partnership, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Great Partnerships, Guaranteed

Amazing things are happening at Bridges of Hope, all because of you.

BOH_BBCampaign_36kBecause of you, today (one week before Thanksgiving), our Fall Fundraising Campaign (60K in 60 Days) has reached $36,000 of our $60,000 goal, just 21 days into the campaign–that is simply incredible. That translates into help and hope for 240 more families this year. Thank you.

Common Goods - Hip ThriftBecause of you, Common Goods has had a record-breaking number of shoppers (and sales) in the past 30 days–which means even more help and hope for families in our community! Thank you for both donating such high-quality items and for coming in and shopping for those amazing items.

Because of you, we are SO CLOSE to meeting the challenge of providing Thanksgiving Meals for 368 households this year–100 more than any year in the past! (Approximately 50 more sponsors are needed for adult households without children. Click here to learn more.) Thank you.

Because of you, Bridges of Hope is able to partner with our local landlords, utility companies, local businesses, auto repairs, appliance stores, local agencies, area churches, and others to provide critical shelter and basic needs assistance to families in our community, and we are so thankful to you for your willingness to partner with Bridges of Hope. Since our inception, Bridges of Hope has worked with well over 100 different partners/vendors in Crow Wing County and the surrounding communities. Thank you. 

Our amazing local partnerships are something I’d like to tell you a little more about:

Bridges of Hope is first and foremost a resource and referral agency–our role is to bridge the gap between those in need in our community and the community assets that can help them. But of course there are times when all of the local resources have been exhausted, or nothing exists to help with a particular situation, or there is some other reasonable explanation as to why we are unable to connect them to local resources, but the family’s situation still warrants helping.

In those times (depending on whether we have funding), Bridges is able to assist financially, thanks to our church-supported community benevolence funds (Spirit of Kindness Fund) and the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation-supported fund, Spirit of Hope. Annually, this is still a very small percentage of the overall services we provide (in 2012, it was ~160 of 2,570 households), but in those situations it still matters a LOT, and that is when our local partnerships are so important and so helpful.

Guarantee of Payment Letter ExampleEven if we’re able to make a decision to assist a family, it can still take up to 3 weeks to draw up the appropriate paperwork, have it approved by a supervisor, sent to our accountant, have a check issued, and then have the payment actually received by whatever business we’re working with.

That is why we are so grateful for the acceptance of our “Guarantee of Payment” letter, which is exactly what it sound like–the business/vendor trusts our word that we are going to pay on the client’s behalf, and they accept the letter as “payment” while they wait for our check to arrive.

This removes a HUGE amount of stress from the family we’re working with, as well as enables us to work through the needed internal controls practices that are required of us. We use this process in situations such as electric shut offs, eviction notices, car repairs, housing repairs, rent, and deposits, among many other unique situations.

An example of how this works would be in a situation where Bridges of Hope is working with a homeless family of five with an annual income of $34,700. We work with them to find affordable housing, which is recommended to be about 30% of their income. They find an available place for $775/month that meets this guideline, but in order to move in, their new rental requires first month’s rent and a damage deposit, as well as a utility deposit to hook up their electricity and heat–over $1,800 for a family that makes just $2,900 per month. In addition, their income of $34,700 was calculated based on one of the parents’ new jobs, where they have only received one paycheck so far–but the family cannot move in until all the deposits have been paid.

This is a common scenario for families in our community, but thanks to the acceptance of our “Guarantee of Payment” letter by our amazing partners, we are able to assist the family in getting into their affordable housing without further delays. We know that stable, safe, and affordable housing is the backbone of a successful, productive community member–and this is just one simple way that several different parts of our community pull together to help some of our members in need.

So because of you, Bridges is able to continue fulfilling our mission to bridge the gaps, support & strengthen families, and send a message of hope. Thank you to all of our partners in the Lakes Area and beyond. Together we are making a difference in our “commUNITY.”

Thanksgiving Meals

pieHere are Bridges, we are again coordinating Thanksgiving meals for households in need during this holiday season. We anticipated receiving about 275 applications by this past Friday’s deadline.

We actually received over 360 applications and 208 kind-hearted sponsors have already stepped forward. Thank you!

If you haven’t already, please consider sponsoring a household for Thanksgiving. We are still in need of over 150 sponsors so these families do not go without a meal on Thanksgiving.

I partnered with a co-worker here in our office last year to sponsor a family. We shopped for, packed & delivered the usual fixings for a holiday meal. The family was so appreciative and the cute little gal who answered the door was especially excited about the fact that we brought two pies. “Now we can share one with our neighbors!” she said.

Wow! Isn’t that what it’s all about? Sharing the gifts we have with others.

If you can find the time to help out by sponsoring a household, we would really appreciate it. Please help us spread the word as well. We are looking for participation from individuals, families, church groups & co-workers. To be a sponsor, please contact Janelle in our office at or 218-825-7682.

Thank you for helping us build Bridges!

Tuesday 11/19/2013 update: Our final count of applications came to 370–nearly 100 more than any prior year. We now have 234 households sponsored (thank you!!), and we are in need of 136 additional sponsors. Click here for sponsorship details.

Thursday 11/21/2013 update: Thank you for your amazing response, Lakes Area! We now have just 50 households (all adult households without children) in need of sponsorship. It’s not too late to become a sponsor: call Janelle today at 218.825.7682 or click here for sponsorship details. And thank you so much.

Friday 11/22/2013 update: As of 10:15 AM, we have received sponsors for every single household–we are overwhelmed with gratitude! Thank you, and thank you again for meeting the increased need right alongside Bridges of Hope.

Something to be Thankful For

Thanksgiving MealBridges of Hope has provided the community with a Thanksgiving Basket Program since 2009. Although it can be a very busy, stressful time of year, it is also one of the most fun and rewarding programs that I am a part of at the organization. (And we do a lot of fun, rewarding things here!)

It’s fun to be able to do something out of the ordinary from my more typical daily tasks, and it’s rewarding to be able to see community members from area churches, businesses, service clubs, and individual families come together to help families who would likely not be able to afford a Thanksgiving meal otherwise. Every year the program has grown, and this year we are expecting to serve approximately 275 families! We rely on the amazing generosity of our sponsors to make this a reality.

Another reason this is such a rewarding program is due to the fact that it is one of the best opportunities for Bridges of Hope to offer a more “hands on” experience for those of our partners and supporters out there who are looking for that kind of experience. This program allows sponsors the opportunity to shop for the food themselves and personally deliver the basket to the family.

We realize this is not the kind of experience that everyone is looking for, and so we are happy to offer other kinds of ways to interface with Bridges; including volunteering, shopping and donating at Common Goods; serving as a mentor in our new Side by Side program; and financially supporting our work with families. But for those of you considering sponsorship this Thanksgiving, I would like to share with you what a past sponsor (who is sponsoring again this year) shared with me recently. She was talking at her church group about the program and encouraging others to get involved, and she shared her experience delivering the baskets last year: “we were able to have conversations with the families and tell them about who we were and invited them to come to our Thanksgiving Eve service at church.” For this sponsor, the unique, personal experience was what made it a great.

Of course, we also realize that not every sponsor can afford the time to personally deliver their basket, and so Bridges of Hope offers the option for sponsors to instead shop and deliver the food to our office, so that another volunteer can deliver the basket to the family. However, we find that most sponsors choose to deliver the baskets themselves! If you would like more information on the program and how to become a sponsor, please click here.

While my post so far has been on the sponsors, the true focus of this program is the families receiving the baskets. The families are the reason we run the program, and serving them in the best way possible is how we make decisions on how the program should be run. Since 2009, you have helped provide over 600 meals to families for Thanksgiving–and we have received numerous thank-you calls and notes from those families, expressing just how thankful they are–and isn’t that exactly what Thanksgiving is all about?

I am so thankful for all of the families we are able to serve because of our amazing sponsors that make this program possible! Thank you!

Sponsors are still needed for this year’s program. To sponsor a family for Thanksgiving this year, visit our website for details.

Campaign Reaches $12,000 Mark!

You might have noticed that we have fall fundraising goal: to raise $60,000 to support our work with Lakes Area families like Steven and Laura’s. You helped us reach this same goal last year and we pray that you’ll help again this year. Just 19 days into this year’s campaign, this generous community has already donated over $12,000!

This year has brought many amazing opportunities to Bridges of Hope, and we’ve faced a few challenges, too. One of our major challenges is the extremely competitive nature of the “Grant Funding World.” Many of our favorite foundations report receiving requests for 3-4 times the dollar amount they have available to give during a funding cycle. During a time when nonprofits are being asked to do more than ever, that math does not add up for local families who are looking to organizations like Bridges of Hope to help during a crisis.

We have a couple of staff members who devote part of their time to writing grants for the organization all year round, and they are pretty good at it. In fact, our “success rate” in 2011 was 59% and the dollar amount funded for these approved grants was 50%. In 2012, our grant writing success rate is 63% (not bad, right?), but the kicker is that only about 30% of the dollar amount we requested has been granted. This has played a large role in our $60,000 year-end funding gap.

Now, we certainly do not intend to sound ungrateful–because we are SO appreciative of our Foundation partners! We simply want to convey to you the extreme importance of your personal gift to Bridges of Hope this year. We have never had a waiting list at Bridges of Hope, and I do not want this to be the first year our clients have to wait for the guidance and support that could change their lives.

Jack, Dylan and ChloeCan you make a gift of $150 to support our services with one family? Every gift matters, whatever the size, and you can be sure we are putting your gift to good use. If you’re curious about what your gift can do, you can read some of our Moment of Hope stories here.

Thank you for helping us keep up with the demand for services during this very busy fall and holiday season. This generous community has already helped our campaign raise over $12,000! Can YOU help us get to the halfway mark by Thanksgiving? Your gift is 100% tax-deductible.

Thank you for helping us build Bridges!