Union Gospel Mission to mark 120 years of service with open house

The pork chops on sticks, steak and pulled pork sandwiches, nacho carnitas, and other tasty dishes enough to feed an army of hopefuls will already be cooking when Jason Drenttel’s food truck pulls into the parking lot for the Union Gospel Mission’s 120th anniversary celebration on Wednesday.

Drenttel believes that since so many of the mission’s soldiers have fought for him over the years, it is now his duty to speak out for them.

Seven years ago, Drenttel and Erin Callinan, the “E” in J & E Snack Shack, were sleeping beneath the Lafayette Bridge and wandering the streets of downtown St. Paul with their blistering feet being washed in the man-made stream at Mears Park. When they were ready to give it another shot, a recovering buddy invited them to breakfast.

Even though Drenttel had participated in a number of 30- and 60-day programs, neither he nor Callinan had been able to overcome their alcoholism. The period prior to Drenttel’s re-enrollment in Union Gospel’s “Christ in Recovery” ministry, which he had previously attempted, was “awful,” he said.

The pair moved on to greater things after completing the residential, religiously oriented addiction treatment program at their own speed. They just got engaged and now reside in Inver Grove Heights with their two boys, who are 5 and 3 years old.

After some setbacks—his previous food truck was totaled during the May 2020 riots, and the father who helped him launch his business died a year ago—Drenttel recently won full custody of his now-adult son from a previous relationship. Now, he’s rolling up to feed customers who once might have turned away at his poverty.

Drenttel remarked, “Once you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough.” “Five of my close friends have passed away recently (from problems connected to addiction), and they weren’t much older than 40. If it weren’t for the Union Gospel Mission, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. I would likely be dead.

Through the joint efforts of churches, the city of St. Paul, and the YMCA, the Union Gospel Mission was established as a Christian men’s ministry for dock workers, laborers, and lumberjacks in December 1902. They currently host up to 350 individuals at a time, offering anything from emergency refuge to a range of longer-term residential programs.

The charity provided home for 133 women and children throughout 2021, a challenging time during the epidemic, as well as 864 men who received emergency shelter and transitional housing.

Pam Axberg, a former executive at United Healthcare who took over as CEO of the Union Gospel Mission in January 2021, stated the organization never strayed from its original mission of “Soup, Soap, and Salvation” despite the fact that its programming has grown.

a 4-acre campus for males at 435 E. On University Avenue, there is both short-term and long-term transitional housing available.

Union Gospel, which has operated the Naomi Family Residences for women and children since 1992 at 77 E. Ninth St., just across from Pedro Park in St. Paul, sold them in February. While the charity considers whether to develop or purchase a new housing building for women in need, about 20 single women and moms with children are now staying at the Hotel 340 on Cedar Street.

Axberg explained, “For safety and security, we felt we weren’t the best suited. Our balconies had a structural concern. “We don’t do construction. Mothers with children and unmarried women are still welcome here. We can accommodate roughly 24 families.

Other initiatives include the residential addiction-recovery program, a men’s clothing closet, a number of financial literacy and life skills classes, and housing for veterans, which was introduced last year in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. Due to the epidemic, schools began using remote learning, which forced adult education teachers to interact with young students who had to attend lessons online.

Axberg predicted that the demand for services would rise when government emergency assistance relating to COVID dried up.

“During the epidemic, there were several government initiatives, and they are ending,” she added. “Some of our emergency numbers and program numbers are currently increasing again.”

We’re trying to discover methods to keep inviting folks to take that initial step of hope, said Axberg. “Substance addiction, mental health, and opioids are rising problems. “We start with the essentials: food, shelter, and clothes. We conclude with mental health. Chapel and Bible devotion are also included – for the mind, soul, and body. We are based on the Christian faith, yet we serve everyone.

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