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Servants of Shelter: First season ends; plans for second season underway

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After 142 nights of shelter, 2,826 meals and 56 guests making 942 individual stays, the first season of Servants of Shelter has drawn to a close.

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"We had a really successful first season," said Kathie Pederson, SOS director.

Due to the success, plans are underway to repeat the program next winter, Pederson said. Similar to the first season, the second season will likely run from November to March.

Starting last fall and continuing through March, SOS provided shelter for the homeless at churches in Bemidji.

Averaging six guests per night, SOS offered overnight accommodations, hot supper, hot breakfast and sack lunches to men, women and children, as well as a church site for guests to go for two hours on weekday mornings. The program also helped guests with job hunting and finding housing.

"One of our goals was to make Jesus' name famous in the community," Pederson said. "We feel like that was accomplished as people reached out to the homeless."

SOS started out as a group of four churches and slowly grew to 11 church sites with six more churches providing food and volunteer support, she said.

Both the volunteers and guests were impacted by the program, Pederson said.

She said volunteers, for example, befriended the guests.

"The guests, I believe, felt really welcomed in our churches and comfortable," Pederson added.

The program's reach has stretched beyond Bemidji. People in International Falls want to start SOS there, said Pederson, adding that there are no shelters there.

Pederson, along with her husband, John, and SOS steering committee member Jutta Goetz, will meet April 28 in International Falls with city officials and church leaders to talk about the program.

In Bemidji, SOS is exploring the possibility of becoming a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Receiving this status, Pederson said, would help with program stability and funding.The program is also looking for two leaders from every participating church to sit on a weekly steering committee.

Pederson said there are other needs, too.

"We really need to have a year-round shelter," she said, noting that people still need shelter in the summer.

At this point, she said, not enough church sites are available for a year-round program.

Also, SOS would like to see a day center for the homeless and a detox center in Bemidji.

One possibility for a day center is to have churches open up for one month at a time to be the site for it while another possibility is having one site in town that churches could staff with volunteers, Pederson said.

Meanwhile, she said the hope for a detox center is to have one come to town with a Christian emphasis for drug addicts and alcoholics. She noted that Bemidji needs a detox center to meet the needs of those suffering with addictions which SOS cannot meet.

Churches interested in being SOS host sites or part of the SOS steering committee, and people interested in volunteering with SOS, may contact Pederson at 760-0029 or kpederson@stemshare.org.

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