Throughout a 30-year career in journalism and communications, Rev. Toya Richards documented people of faith tackling challenges around the world. She wrote about a Congolese pastor braving death threats to promote peace in 2013. She wrote about church groups restoring water service in Lebanon following a cease-fire in 2006. She directed a 2017 documentary about migrants from Central America seeking asylum and the interfaith groups trying to help them.
Now it’s her turn to be the changemaker in the news. Richards is the new executive director of TRUST, a nonprofit coalition of 20 South Minneapolis churches from nine denominations that pool resources to support work they couldn’t do on their own.
“All the work that I do is about justice. It all intersects,” Richards said. “It’s all about bringing light to the dark spaces of the world.”
Based in Tangletown, TRUST is marking its 50th anniversary and reimagining how to operate in a pandemic. Staff and volunteers are delivering frozen meals every week, starting a buddy system to check in with people living alone and relaunching an in-person grief group this fall.
“The beauty of TRUST, which is why they came together, is the congregations realized they were stronger together,” Richards said.
50 years of help
Former TRUST executive director Nancy Biele was a founder of the Sexual Violence Center and a state violence prevention planner. She was looking for a quieter position when she answered a newspaper job ad to become TRUST’s director, a position she held for 19 years.
“We were the good deed doers,” she said. “What’s the need, and how can we help?”
When TRUST was founded in 1970, residents were concerned about the construction of I-35W after seeing the impact to the Rondo neighborhood, Biele said.
“Everything they were afraid of happening did,” she said. “There was a racial barrier set, which also meant there was an economic barrier. We had churches on both sides.”
Realizing some residents didn’t have access to food, eight churches banded together and asked a nursing home to make a few extra meals, three years before the formal Meals on Wheels program existed and TRUST took on its local operation. The coalition also started the city’s first daycare for sick children, designed for women who couldn’t afford to take a day off when their kids were ill.
A mental health clinic operated at Judson Church until 2010. When Mayflower Church faced opposition to an affordable housing partnership at 54th & Stevens, the TRUST board mobilized in support of the project.
Today, volunteers build affordable housing and help the homebound buy groceries or hire people for lawn care. The parish nurse is currently preparing flu shot clinics.
During the last recession, some ministers worried that half the calls they received were from people asking for financial aid, and they didn’t have any money set aside for them. Bethlehem Lutheran and Judson Baptist created Starfish Network to vet requests for aid.
“After the first week of the month, the money’s gone, because there is so much need out there,” Biele said.
TRUST congregations support Loaves & Fishes, which serves weeknight grab-and-go meals at a table outside St. Stephen’s Catholic Church. In “normal” times, they might serve 150 meals per day, with the number rising at the end of each month. Now they’re serving more than 200 meals nightly, a historic high, according to volunteer Kathryn Lundquist. She said they desperately need more volunteers.
“We’re still making it happen every single day. … Last Tuesday, four of us ran the whole thing from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” she said. “There is no time like yesterday to do something.”
In TRUST’s annual survey, 43% of respondents said Meals on Wheels is often the only food they eat each day, and 46% said the delivery volunteer is often the only person they see each day.
“If anything, COVID has shown us that older people living alone in their homes — there’s a lot of need out there. Sometimes it’s communication and contact, and it’s not necessarily food all the time,” said Diane Hansen, TRUST board president. “There are a lot of people alone in their house that don’t have other people around.”
That’s why TRUST’s South Minneapolis Coalition for Grief Support will resume in person at a limited capacity. Zoom doesn’t work well for seniors who can’t or don’t want to use it, said Norine Larson. When Larson took over the grief coalition 20 years ago, she started with the delicate task of placing limits on participation — one elderly man said he’d been attending for five years to scope for “chicks.” Through the tears, the group often finds much to laugh about, like the things people say at funerals.
“The one that really makes people crazy is: ‘She’s in a better place’ — and it’s like, what’s the matter with my place?” Larson said.
(To support people grieving, she recommends simply saying “I’m sorry,” checking in with phone calls, and helping people get out of the house.)
The pandemic is making grief harder, Larson said, because people are more isolated and now worry about COVID while adjusting to a life that will never go back to “normal.”
“People don’t realize that when they are grieving, one of the questions they have to answer is: Who am I now? … What am I going to do with that new role?”
It’s a similar question facing TRUST, where finances are hurting due to a lull in grant-writing combined with the pandemic, which slowed down estate sales that generate revenue for the coalition. Churches typically contribute whatever they wish, and some churches in lockdown aren’t able to contribute at all this year. Paycheck Protection Program funds have helped with cash flow. The 2020 Great TRUST Auction, conducted virtually, is Oct. 24.
“There are things that TRUST can do in the future that can build it back up again,” Hansen said.
The board is preparing to reach out with questions to determine what more the coalition should be working on, perhaps issues like racial justice, housing or food insecurity.
“What do we need to do for such a time as this?” Richards asked. “What else?”
She said all of TRUST’s programs can use volunteers, and anyone can make an impact.
“Everyone has to examine, has to do a deep dive and discern: How can I be an agent of change?” Richards said.
TRUST Inc. member churches
Bethlehem Lutheran Church – since 1974
4100 Lyndale Ave. S.
First Universalist Church – since 1999
3400 Dupont Ave. S.
Judson Memorial Baptist Church – since 1970
4101 Harriet Ave. S.
Lake Harriet Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – since 2003
5009 Beard Ave. S.
Lake Harriet United Methodist Church – since 1989
4901 Chowen Ave. S.
Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church – since 1995
1620 E. 46th St.
Linden Hills United Church of Christ – since 1990
4200 Upton Ave. S.
Living Spirit United Methodist Church – since 1970
4501 Bloomington Ave. S.
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer – since 1998
5440 Penn Ave. S.
Lynnhurst Congregational United Church of Christ – since 1970
4501 Colfax Ave. S.
Mayflower Congregational, United Church of Christ – since 1993
106 E. Diamond Lake Rd.
Mount Olive Lutheran Church – since 2011
3045 Chicago Ave. S.
Richfield Lutheran Church – since 2020
8 W. 60th St.
Richfield United Methodist Church – since 2005
5835 Lyndale Ave. S.
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church – since 1970
4537 Third Ave. S.
St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church – since 1986
4201 Sheridan Ave. S.
St. John’s Lutheran Church – since 1970
4842 Nicollet Ave.
St. Leonard’s Catholic Church – since 1976
3949 Clinton Ave. S.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church – since 1975
4557 Colfax Ave. S.
St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church – since 2016
2914 W. 44th St.