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Our Story

Mary Jo Copeland with a group of children

Sharing and Caring Hands was founded in 1985 by Mary Jo Copeland of Minneapolis. Before 1985, Mary Jo had been a regular volunteer with an organization that helps the poor. She was an innovator in this work, especially in the area of organizing outside volunteers to help. In spite of her best efforts, however, Mary had been often been frustrated with the bureaucratic nature of the organizations, and she saw many who needed help slipping through the cracks. In 1985, she was recognized for her volunteer service by local TV station KARE as one of their “Eleven who Care.”

With a $2,200 stipend that came with the award, she was determined to begin her own outreach to the homeless and the poorest of the poor. Her plan was to provide services through volunteers, to give local churches and organizations an opportunity to serve, and to provide charity with a human face and true compassion.

Sharing and Caring Hands' first location was on Glenwood Ave on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. She located a storefront on Glenwood Avenue in a tough area of downtown Minneapolis and convinced her husband to personally sign for a three-year lease. She put a sign in the window: “Sharing and Caring Hands.” It was a gamble. Mary Jo then embarked on a campaign of preaching to church congregations at their Sunday services.

Her message was and is “unconditional love,” following the biblical injunction, “Love one another as I have loved you.” People were inspired to help, and the donations came in. She set up showers and a free clothing store in the basement of her building. A place where the poor and homeless could clean themselves and maintain their dignity has always been a part of the mission. Mary Jo bought gloves, mittens, and shoes to supplement the donated clothing in the Free Store. Her vision was to give everything to the poor. No one was paid a salary, not even herself.

In 1988, city redevelopment plans forced the shelter to move. That necessitated the first purchase of property. Sharing and Caring Hands bought its first building about a half mile away from the original rented property. The building cost $225,000 and $250,000 was spent to remodel it. The new facility had a beautiful new kitchen with walk-in refrigerator and freezer space, much more room for eating and a Free Store. It was bulging at the seams almost immediately, and the clientele changed from predominantly male street transients to mothers with little ones. Our second location greatly expanded our ability to serve. It also brought more mothers and children to our attention. Even in the earliest days, Mary washed the feet of those in need. New shoes and socks are also provided when necessary.

Sharing & Caring Hands building

In 1990, Mary Jo added onto the facility, nearly doubling the size. The expansion cost about $500,000, all paid for by private donations – no public money was involved at any time. Her concern was that public money would bring public control. 1992 brought the biggest project yet. Due to changes in government policy, the need for transitional housing for the homeless was great. Often times Mary was putting those in need in hotels and motels at great expense.

Mary Jo Copeland with a group of children
Mary’s Place Transitional Housing was dedicated in 1995 and expanded in 2000 and 2015. Its 100 apartments can accommodate over 600 needy people. Sharing and Caring Hands bought 5.3 acres of land adjacent their building to build apartments to shelter the poor. At first the city council refused the permits necessary for the apartments to be built. Mary Jo called her friends in the media – columnists and editorialists lined up in her corner. She hired a lawyer and sued the city. It didn’t take long before Mary Jo had her permits. The land cost $1,050,000 and the building and furnishings cost $6,500,000. The project was built entirely with private money. The facility was finished in 1995 with 56 apartments. It is named Mary’s Place in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary’s Place was expanded in 2000 at a cost of $6,000,000 and again in 2015 at another $6,000,000. Thirty-six family units were added in 2000 and eight units in 2015. These are transitional apartments, planned to carry families until they find permanent homes. Ever since the transitional housing center, Mary’s Place, opened, it has been at capacity. The apartment units caused a change in policy in 1995. For the first time, Sharing and Caring Hands needed to hire some full-time people. But even this was just a step along the way. Mary’s vision was expanding to fit the greater needs she found.

Mary’s Place provides a safe place for children in a world that can seem very cruel at times. The day shelter was bulging at the seams. Sharing and Caring Hands purchased land across the street and proceeded to build a new day shelter – 27,000 square feet as compared to less than 10,000 in the original facility.

This increased capital expenditures by $4,500,000. It gave larger and better facilities in all areas – kitchen, eating area, clothing store, food shelf, medical, dental, office, and elbowroom. The new Day Shelter opened in 1997. In 1998, the remodeling of the original day shelter was started. The ground floor was converted into a Teen Center with numerous wholesome activities, and the second floor was devoted to a children’s activity center for young children. The remodeling for this building cost $500,000 and was named Mary My Hope Children’s Center. In 2015 Mary My Hope Children Center was taken down to accommodate another Mary's Place expansion adding on the new teen/children center and eight more apartments.  Our three building campus became a two building campus.

Mary Jo was and is the main fundraiser, the recruiter of volunteers and director of the shelter. Mary Jo has recruited church groups to buy, prepare, bring in and serve the noon meal each day. She has a different group for each day of the month. This system has been in place since the first days of Sharing and Caring Hands. Some of the original groups are still serving today.

So what does the future hold? Mary Jo subscribes to the philosophy expressed by Pope John XXIII, who considered himself the servant of the servants of God. Mary’s faith is wondrous to behold. Sometimes when she articulates her plans and desires, the Board of Directors caution her to go slowly. She responds with “God will provide,” and He does.

  • “Do something beautiful for God and make a difference in the lives of others.”
  • "Love and compassion are the secret to world peace."
  • "What is success? To love one another as God has loved us."
  • "Kindness is a conversion. Never forget that."
  • "Great leaders are great servants. Go serve God, serve family, serve your community."
  • "You will never fulfill the Scriptures (you read) until you are willing to live them."
  • "Your smile and an outstretched hand is the beginning of a miracle in the unspoken need of another's heart."
  • “Kindness a language in which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
  • "Hold fast, go forward... fear nothing."
  • "Evil flourishes when good people don't speak."
  • "When someone is drowning, you don't throw them a life preserver, you get into the water with them."
  • "In the evening of our lives, each one of us will be judged on one little thing... love, love, love... until it hurts."
  • "We are responsible for the effort, not the outcome."
  • "Joy is the net of love in which we catch souls."
  • "Don't pray too long, you'll get it wrong; we must go from prayer to action."
  • "We are called to be channels of God's peace, instruments of His love."
  • “Prayerful words must go into loving deeds.”