By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Pastor Carol Smith’s mom, Anne Sogge, “was always cooking meals” and that heritage contributed to the ministry Smith and her husband, Pastor Geary Smith, coordinate in St. Cloud which serves more than 7,000 meals a month.
“Anybody who showed up at our place got fed,” Smith said. “You couldn’t even drive into our yard without getting fed. Mom and Dad were quiet people, but very compassionate.”
Smith grew up in Sauk Centre. After taking her general education development (GED) test, she majored in applied psychology and chemical dependency at St. Cloud State University. She continued her education with Berean studies for pastoral ministries through Global University.
She returned to Sauk Centre with Geary in 1987, and they pastored there together for 10 years.
During those years, the entire Sogge family worked together to establish the Sauk Centre Annual Community Christmas Dinner.
The goal was to provide a holiday meal for anyone who was in need of a meal, and for people who may otherwise be alone on the holiday.
“An organization wanted to take over when we left Sauk Centre, but we knew it has to be a family doing it,” Smith said.
The Jungers family assumed the privilege in 1998.
When the Bielke family expressed an interest in doing a meal for Thanksgiving, the two families pooled community resources and worked together.
“It’s not need-based,” Smith said. “It’s about getting together on a holiday instead of being alone. It’s always been in our hearts to feed people in need.”
“Everything we do flows out of Isaiah 58: 6-12. It’s verse 12 that speaks of restoring the streets,” said Smith. “‘Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.’”
It was in 1997, that the Smiths answered God’s call to St. Cloud, to be “home missionaries” to hurting people there.
Their mission is to bring hope to people and families whose lives have been broken by drug addiction, abuse, homelessness and life-controlling problems.
“We want to reach people on the street in poverty who are struggling with various life issues,” Smith said. “We know churches want to help people; our call was also to show churches, businesses and other organizations that they can help — to give them an avenue to do that.”
Place of Hope encompasses an entire city block in a continuum of care. Housing is provided on a temporary basis (sheltering) as well as transitional housing and permanent housing.
Chapel is held every morning, with two services on Sunday. “Our faith is central to life — everything we do is an arm of our faith,” said Smith.
The core of the ministry is reaching people experiencing homelessness. The Church of the Week program began in 2001, with a different church hosting those experiencing homelessness each night for a week. The first night of sheltering was Christmas Eve.
“We began with two partner churches and about 10 volunteers, which grew to nine churches and about 250 volunteers that first year,” Smith said.
The program now has 18 church sites and more than 1,200 volunteers.
“As the economy has plummeted, the need for shelter has risen,” she said.
The main building on the campus, the former St. Raphael’s Hospital built in 1899, houses the dining facility. It continues to be refurbished as needs arise, each floor providing for a different need. In June, one of the floors will house moms with up to two children and single women. It will continue to house Department of Corrections work release people in transition.
“It’s a sober environment for them to find stability in life and move forward,” Smith said. “We are helping them to be interdependently self-sufficient; to be part of the community but be responsible for themselves.”
The former service building houses veterans experiencing homelessness.
“I’m not going to live forever,” said Smith. “My job is to train and equip people to take my place.”
The Smiths have three grown children and two grandchildren, with two new ones on the way.
“My passion is my family,” Smith said. “They’re part of this, too.”
For more information or to volunteer, call (320) 203-7881.