For the fifth year in a row, an Eden Prairie couple has stepped up to help families in danger of losing their homes.
The couple, who prefers to remain anonymous, is providing an annual $25,000 matching gift to PROP Food Shelf to support the organization’s housing services in a campaign called “Keeping Families in Their Homes for the Holidays and Beyond.” The gift will match any donation until midnight on Dec. 31.
PROP’s homelessness prevention program works to help families in Eden Prairie from losing their homes by providing temporary financial assistance to cover a month or more of rent. That gives PROP case managers time to work with families on a sustainable solution.
Many families in Eden Prairie turn to PROP for food support and end up using the organization’s housing services, which are in high demand due to the pandemic’s lingering impact, and rising food and gas costs.
“PROP Food Shelf is our DNA, but the housing support that we provide is equally robust and has a significant impact on the community in responding to the needs that come up,” said Mary Brown, PROP’s development director. “This matching gift has helped highlight the importance of PROP and our work.”
Helping their neighbors
Through email, the couple provided answered questions about the motivation behind their annual matching gift campaign.
“Our Christian faith invites us to love our neighbors,” they wrote. “Recognizing the growing challenges and consequences of homelessness, our hope was to keep families stable and secure in their homes rather than at higher risk out on the streets after eviction.”
The couple has provided challenge match contributions to PROP totaling $125,000 over the past five years, resulting in an additional $375,000 from other community members for a total of $500,000.
Those donations, the couple wrote, have helped keep more than 400 local families in their apartments rather than being evicted.
The couple, who have lived in Eden Prairie for about 40 years and attend St. Andrew Lutheran Church, stated that they have chosen to remain anonymous to redirect the focus to preventing homelessness and honoring PROP for its services.
They encourage others in Eden Prairie to “generously and compassionately” support efforts to help families maintain their homes in the community.
Before starting the campaign, Brown said the couple was unaware of the full extent of PROP’s housing services until they visited its offices on Martin Drive.
“They knew us as a food shelf, but they didn’t realize how much we do in the scope of housing,” she said. “That was a passion point for them. They visited [and learned about]the different organizations that help PROP, and they really wanted to cultivate individual donors to do more in the community.”
Brown encourages donors to come to its offices and see firsthand all the different work that PROP does.
“When they come and see it with their own eyes, it deepens their understanding and inspires them to do even more, and that’s the story of this donor couple and their visits here,” she said.
More than a food shelf
Jenifer Loon, who serves as PROP’s executive director, said some people are surprised to learn the non-profit is more than just a food shelf.
In addition to food, PROP provides short-term emergency and financial assistance such as homelessness prevention services, car repair, youth scholarships, and other financial assistance that help stabilize families in Eden Prairie and Chanhassen.
Of those, Loon said housing assistance is by far the most utilized.
“It’s been growing through the pandemic, as you would expect, but it’s even taken another jump off,” she said.
She said PROP received grants for housing assistance related to COVID-19. But, as these grants are ending and the eviction moratorium has been lifted, more people are coming to PROP with eviction notices or facing the threat of eviction.
On average, Loon said PROP helps about 70 families per year stay housed, usually through one month of rent assistance. However, in the first four or five months of this fiscal year, PROP has already assisted with 39 housing cases.
PROP’s current fiscal year is from July 1, 2022, through the end of June 2023.
“That’s a pretty steep increase over what we might expect,” Loon said. “And the amount of money that we’ve spent already has been significantly more than half of the budget we allocated.”
Keeping evictions at bay
Brown said nearly all of PROP’s housing clients are on the verge of eviction when they seek help.
“They can be one or two days away because they’ve tried to figure it out themselves,” she said.
Loon said that requests for mortgage assistance are rare, and most of the requests for housing assistance that PROP receives are from renters. Loon stated that landlords are usually receptive when PROP contacts them to discuss payment plans for clients.
“Before the pandemic, oftentimes it was a month of rent [that people were behind],” Loon said. “We’re now seeing people coming to us, and they’re already two or three months behind [on rent]. So their asks may be greater than what we’ve experienced in the past.”
The process for seeking assistance at PROP involves contacting the organization in person or by phone and meeting with a case manager.
PROP’s financial assistance may include help with rent, utilities, or both, Loon said. The goal is to provide the support that helps clients become more stable after the assistance ends.
“We always encourage those families to use the food shelf,” she said. “Can we help alleviate some of the pressures on your budget with food and other things you’re experiencing?”
Helping families stay in EP
PROP serves a diverse group of clients, but Loon said a significant number are single parents with children.
“We’ve really tried to help those families in any way we can with their financial qualifications,” Loon said. “Oftentimes, they’re here because their children are in school in Eden Prairie. They want to stay, and we really want to try to keep those families stable, so they don’t have to disrupt their children’s education and uproot families and move.”
Evictions can devastate families in Eden Prairie, as they often have to go to a shelter in Minneapolis and leave their possessions behind, leading to disrupted education for their children and financial and emotional strain.
“It’s very hard to rent again when you have an eviction on your record,” Brown said. “That was really one of the main reasons this couple wanted to [provide the matching gift]. In terms of the investment of that, one or two months of rent, and how transformative that is, as opposed to the cost, financial and emotional, of becoming homeless, there’s just no comparison.”
Donors can contribute to the campaign by giving online at PROP’s website or mailing a check to PROP Food Shelf at 14700 Martin Drive in Eden Prairie, MN, 55344.
All gifts designated for the “Keeping Families in Their Homes” campaign made before midnight on Dec. 31 will be matched.
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