by Dennis Dalman
Almost all of the 15 staff members at Place of Hope stayed there at one time or another when they were down on their luck before they had their own housing and good, steady jobs at the very place that gave them hope and purpose to begin with – Place of Hope.
Those employees are living testaments to the many success stories generated by Place of Hope, which was founded in St. Cloud 17 years ago by Pastors Carol and Geary Smith of the Assemblies of God. Thanks to support from churches throughout the area, including the churches in Sartell, Place of Hope has managed to carry on what at one time seemed a virtually impossible mission – housing homeless people, providing clothing and serving 7,000 meals per month, including breakfasts and dinners seven days a week to anyone who is hungry.
Why did the Smiths even dare to dream of such an ambitious mission?
The answer, Carol said, is simple. It comes from the Bible, Isaiah, Chapter 23, where it says, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those in need.”
And that is exactly what the Smiths set out to do so many years ago. At first, they opened a street-front mission on St. Cloud’s east side, handing out drinks of cold water to passersby.
Several years later, in 2001, they acquired the old St. Rafael Nursing Home and Hospital building on 9th Avenue N. in St. Cloud.
“God had called us to St. Cloud,” Carol said.
Carol hails from Sauk Centre, Geary from St. Anna.
Many years ago, when Carol was preaching a sermon, she noticed children in the church were fussing and whining as their mothers tried to hush them. After the service, some of the mothers came up to Carol to apologize. Their children were fussing, they said, because they were hungry.
“That’s the day I said ‘This is the last straw!’” Carol recalled. “How can I preach the Word of God if they’re hungry? We started feeding breakfast in the mornings and then one meal each month. The need was so great it just kept growing.”
The Smiths derive sweet satisfaction from their work because not only are they helping others in need, but they are also providing a way for churches and organizations to help people in a very direct way in the area.
“Place of Hope is a way to serve,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Though they are devout Assemblies of God home missionaries, Place of Hope is entirely an interfaith organization, and churches of all denominations support it on a regular basis. It also gets support from civic organizations, businesses, other groups and many individuals. An example of its interfaith dedication is the name of its food program, Anne’s Meals.
“It was named after my mother, Anne,” Carol said. “She was Catholic, but she was very supportive of what Geary and I did, and she loved what we were doing.”
All the many meals served at Place of Hope are cooked in the first-floor kitchen.
“We cook, cook and cook some more,” Carol said. “It’s a labor of love.”
Then, laughing, she added, “Oh, and it’s a also a leap of faith.”
She gave an example. One of the cooks decided to pray to God because they were out of butter. The very next day, someone showed up out of the blue to donate 10 pounds of butter. Such unexpected, needful gifts turn up all the time, Carol noted.
“We pray to the Lord to provide,” she said. “As the prayer goes, ‘Give us our daily bread.’”
On Aug. 25, Carol and her grandchildren made a trip to Zimmerman, where a church donated 100 backpacks for Place of Hope, which it will use for its Back to School program, one of many outreach offerings it does throughout the year.
Sometimes all of the work can become a bit overwhelming, but the Smiths don’t know what the word “quit” means.
“I love to do this,” Carol said. “I feel so privileged God would ask us to do this.”
Pastors Carol and Geary Smith opened Place of Hope in St. Cloud 17 years ago. Thanks to widespread support from churches, businesses, civic groups and individuals, the facility has helped many down-and-out people get back on their feet.