Megan Doyle stands in front of her kitchen stove, spoon in hand. Dressed in a smart black and white jacket, slacks and black patent leather flats, she lifts the lid and as the steam pours out, she ladles the piping hot rice and bean mixture into a bowl for tasting.
Her husband Dennis Doyle grabs a spoon and settles into a bar stool at the expansive kitchen island as they debate the merits of the mixture and whether it’s right for the people they serve. “Does it need more seasoning? Be honest,” she says “Our clients don’t have access to seasoning.” A second steaming pot holds a new soy-based macaroni and cheese mixture they’re testing. “Does it have the right texture?”
As they banter back and forth Megan begins brainstorming at rapid-fire pace how the pre-packaged, vitamin-fortified mixtures could be used. She explains they could work as a supplement to food distribution programs right here in Minnesota, they could be included in emergency aid packets for the homeless.
The easy back and forth and the explanation of their mission work slips out as second nature. The Eden Prairie couple founded Hope For The City, an organization that in a little more than a decade, has distributed more than $550 million worth of (wholesale-valued) corporate surplus to helping organizations throughout Minnesota and internationally.
That surplus includes more than 5 million pounds of food a year, as well as toiletries, clothing, toys, furniture and sporting goods. But, that’s only part of the mission. Hope for the City also collects used medical equipment from hospitals and clinics in the states to be shipped by the container-load to countries with few medical supplies. “Our faith compels us, but along the way our hearts have been broken for the poor,” Megan says.
Though their organization is non-secular, the Doyle’s have always worked from their Christian faith. As members of Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Dennis explains it’s impossible to not do what they do. “It’s hard to read the Bible or any scripture (without hearing) that it’s important to take care of the poor,” Dennis Doyle said.
Though thousands of people hear that message every Sunday, the Doyles innately felt they needed to do more. They’d always given freely to various causes but they wanted to be more strategic. In the first year they launched Hope for the City they turned their own $40,000 worth of charitable giving into $1.8 million worth of wholesale goods they were able to donate to 10 different organizations. They rented a Hertz truck, hired a driver and collected clothing, work boots and food to distribute to the poor.
That first success was born of good leadership and strong, trusting relationships with the heads of large corporations. Many of those relationships were forged through Dennis’s work at Welsh Companies, a full-service commercial real estate firm that employs more than 300 people and has been named time and again one of Minnesota’s top places to work. Doyle now serves as chairman and the connections he and Megan fostered through the firm led them to understand just how much corporate surplus is available in the states.
Following a model they saw on a trip to California to visit some pastor friends, they launched their own efforts here at home. As they began, the Doyles worked with organizations that were already successfully working with clients. Today, they distribute food and goods among 60 to 70 Minnesota churches, community centers and non-profits working with the poor, the homeless and those in recovery.
Hope for the City offers distribution of food three days a week and non-food items once a week. The distributions include things like apples, potatoes, bread, refrigerated products and frozen meats. Non-food items include clothing, cleaning products, sanitary products, diapers, household supplies, sporting goods and toys.
No matter what they’re giving or to whom, the Doyles focus on dignity for those they serve. They’re humble and consider themselves to be a conduit of giving; they give the real credit to their staff, their volunteers and the corporations who entrust them to distribute their surplus goods. “It’s not us, it’s the generosity of the people in this community, it’s the generosity of people in the country,” Dennis says.
Donated food and merchandise doesn’t rest for long in the warehouse and the stock changes over almost daily. One Thursday the Doyles’ received a call saying a company had eight semi-trucks of yogurt to unload. By Friday afternoon, the product was distributed.
Megan can be found with her hand in all aspects of the Hope for the City operation. She does everything from testing which brands of tuna fish can be frozen for use in aid kits given to the homeless to managing fundraisers and speaking on behalf of the organization. Annually, her goal is to raise more than $1 million to provide $25 to $30 million (wholesale) in goods to those in need.
Elim Church Pastor Becky Hanson has received food from Hope for the City for two years. She used the goods to feed the more than 260 homeless people the Northeast Minneapolis congregation serves through its Hope Avenue mission. One wet and snowy night in November, Megan brought a group of volunteers, 250 donated coats and 250 UGG Boots to distribute to the homeless. “Megan was there, we were touched she came, she works on an international level, the homeless were wet and she hugged them, she didn’t care,” Hanson says. “The Lord is using her as a point person.”
For Megan, working with and for the poor was part of her upbringing. At the age of 9, attending Catholic school, she realized the vow of poverty taken by the nuns. She watched as her mother tended to the sisters, taking them to appointments and clothing them with extras from her closet.
Today, she carries on her mother’s tradition, but as she and Dennis work, they reach thousands of hungry mouths just in the United States. Internationally, they shipped 45 sea containers of goods and medical supplies to 14 different countries in 2011 alone. Medical supplies range from incubators and hospital beds to ultrasound machines and wheelchairs, all donations from state hospitals replacing their dated equipment.
Through their international travels to Uganda, Indonesia and other places the Doyles have seen pain, they’ve seen the poorest of the poor, people literally living in burning garbage dumps, people walking hours to get to the doctor only to be the 200th in line for care. “When you’re in the most powerful country in the world it’s hard to imagine what going day to day without food, water and electricity is like,” Megan says.
Whether they’re giving in the states or internationally, Dennis and Megan say they realize people are often victims of circumstance and those overseas are often born into a life of poverty with no options for getting out. It is there that their goal to work with dignity shines through. “Don’t judge, don’t come with grand ideas, come with a spirit of love and you’ll reach the people in a way they understand,” Dennis says.
Not only do they understand the people around the world, they welcome them into their home. The Doyles have a special relationship with the people of Uganda, a place where Hope for the City is filling a new hospital, clinic and dental center with medical equipment. The maternity hospital is set to open this month and was made possible through the work of Father Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas.
There are about 30 Ugandan students attending St. Thomas and the Doyles, who have two grown sons of their own, have welcomed six Ugandans into their family and consider them “adopted” members. Their friends have welcomed another 25. Welcoming means they spend holiday and birthday celebrations with the families, in the case of the Doyles, they attend political fundraisers and even visit their cabin on the White Fish chain of Lakes.
The Doyles not only welcome these students from the heart and as family, Megan Doyle explains that exposure to all things American gives the Ugandan students an advantage when they return home. “It’s part of what they have to offer an employer, their experience, they know how to sell to us, how to buy from us, it completes their full educational experience here,” she says.
There is hardly a moment that Megan and Dennis don’t think about Hope for the City, and the work it’s doing across Minnesota and overseas. The couple encourages others to get involved however they can, Dennis says their organization isn’t about them, it’s about all the puzzle pieces that come together to allow the giving to happen. “It changes your life, it changes the way you see things, it changes the way you think, it changes who you are,” Dennis says. “You understand more about what it means to be a human being.”
Hope for the City is always looking for volunteers, accepting donations and giving tours through an exhibit inside their St. Louis Park warehouse. For more information contact Kelli at 952.837.3048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.