Bob Harden: Right now, we have Vann Ellison. He is the CEO of St. Matthew’s House. Vann, thank you so much for joining us.
Vann Ellison: Bob, it’s great to be with you this morning.
Bob Harden: Thank you so much, Vann. I think your organization is terrific, and perhaps if everybody could make a template of this in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and so forth, it would solve a lot of homeless problems. But, tell us about St. Matthew’s House.
Vann Ellison: Well, St. Matthew’s House is a local not-for-profit. We don’t take government funding. We don’t take a lot of the resources that are commonly used in trying to address issues of poverty. Our goal is to really help a person change their life in a compassionate, yet disciplined environment. So we take in homeless people, people on the brink of just absolute poverty. We also deal a lot with addictions. We have an addictions recovery program called Justin’s Place, where we’re able to impact the lives of literally hundreds of men and women, and their families as well.
Bob Harden: Great organization. And part of the model is having businesses where people at St. Matthew’s House can learn a new skill, learn how to be productive, learn how to contribute to society. And as I understand it, while you get no government funding, about 70 percent of the funding for your programs come from the operation of these businesses.
Vann Ellison: Yeah, that’s right. One of the things that we’ve decided to do over the years as we’ve really built a model that says that we could do businesses in a way that advances our mission, provide job training, provide the resources to support the ministry. And then basically that gives a message to our donors that every dollar they donate can go straight into advancing our mission without having to worry about administrative overhead, because all that is covered through our business model. So we have thrift stores, and a couple of catering companies, coffee shops that we serve Starbucks® products, we have a car wash, and retreat center in LaBelle, and all those things all serve not only as a revenue source, but as a way to advance our ministry by training people, giving them basically the ability to fish and support themselves instead of just providing a fish every day.
Bob Harden: Yeah, a little kudos to the catering business at St. Matthew’s House. I don’t want to single that one out, but they do a fantastic job and win lots of competitions too, I know. So you’ve got a new business that’s been founded and announced recently here in the last week. It’s called, LuLu’s Kitchen. Very near and dear to our heart. Maybe you could tell us about it.
Vann Ellison: Yeah. LuLu’s Kitchen. What we did is, years and years ago, probably almost 15 years now, we started our catering company in Naples using our shelter kitchen. The commercial kitchen provides great resources and some training opportunities. But we were always limited because it was never designed as a state of the art kitchen with all the greatest resources. We just made the most out of what we had. Today, we’ve been given opportunities through the support of some very generous donors to build a little more than 8000 square foot kitchen. That’s really going to be a culinary training institute to train people with job skills so that we can place people in the hospitality businesses around Collier County and Southwest Florida. We’ll also be able to provide better resources to cook mission meals. We’ll serve close to half a million meals this year to the people that we serve through our catering company and through our shelter and our recovery programs. And then the last thing is, that really strong, strong training program we’ll be able to train bakers and all kinds of specialty things within the culinary business, so that we’re doing a far better job to serve the people that are coming to us for help with the training. And we’ll have a cafe there in addition to the big training kitchen and then the catering kitchen.
Bob Harden: So which is just really exciting. I can assure you that when you go out to a restaurant here in the community on the Paradise Coast to some high likelihood that perhaps they were once at St. Matthew’s House learning that skill and getting themselves, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and really getting back into the mainstream of life, so I just really congratulate you. I want to ask you about the metrics. Unlike several government programs, your program has accountability for the people that come into St. Matthew’s House. Can you give us an idea about the average stay of how long people are at St. Matthew’s House?
Vann Ellison: Yeah, Bob. That’s what are really the keys to success, is that we hold people accountable. We want to give resources that they couldn’t get by themselves and give them the structure. But structure is one of those great resources. And so the average person coming to us, they may or may not struggle with a drug problem, but everybody in our care is going to be breathalyzed every day to make sure they’re staying sober. They’re going to be drug screened randomly, or if there’s suspicion. They’re going to be held accountable to get a job and to do those things. So the average person in our care is with us for less than 90 days. So you compare that with what we see as just an explosive growth of homelessness in California, Seattle, New York City. Most of those people will come into that type of system asking for care, and they’ll be there literally for years consuming, you know, 50, 60 thousand dollars of government resources per year per person. So we believe having a really structured, supportive environment goes a long way to helping people. We don’t want people to learn a dependency model. How do you depend on the government or others for resources? But we want them to be the master of their own fate and begin to work a program of their own so that they can have a life that they’re proud of.
Bob Harden: Absolutely, and again, I come back to the whole notion of not only does it help people get back on their feet, but those that contribute, like the Holecek Foundation who helped build LuLu’s Kitchen, of course, LuLu, very dear, near and dear to our hearts, because LuLu B’s Café, LuLu B’s Diner, previously LuLu B’s Grill has been, you know, one of our supporters here on the show for years. So, very grateful to see that. But the point being is that, you know, needless to say, when you reach in your pocket, you do something good for somebody else. It gives you that great feeling that you’re, you know, you’re doing something for somebody else and you can’t do that with a government or you’ve got a gun to your head not in a literal sense, but a metaphorical sense that, hey, you got to do this and this is how we’re going to spend the money.
Vann Ellison: Well, you know, that’s really the wonder of the free market system, not just in business, but in not for profit. If I’m mandated what I must support, there tends to be inefficiency. But when we’re competing to make sure we’re doing a good job, then what happens is that donors have a greater sense of accountability, that we’re actually providing the services we say we will. If you don’t, you end up getting less and less support instead of a growing ministry like we’ve had where people see what we’re producing, they’re proud of the results and they’re proud to contribute and advance the mission. You sell an idea not by passing legislation, but by engaging the community. And we think that one of the things a lot of not for profits don’t think about as much as maybe they should is how do you enrich the lives of your donors? For us, it’s by knowing that they’re giving and their participation really goes a long way to advancing their lives and changing their community. So we have a pretty great group of folks that support us, that are very passionate about the work we do.
Bob Harden: Absolutely. The website is stmatthewshouse.org, stmatthewshouse.org. Now you’re coming into a very busy season now Thanksgiving and the holidays. Any special programs going on?
Vann Ellison: Well, each year we do a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway. We’re will assist families that are working-poor families that might be struggling. This year, we estimate that we’ll give about 2000 turkeys and all the fixings away to the families kind of on the margins. And why that’s important is we know that the stress and the strain on poorer families, people who are really struggling, can really be tough, especially on the kids. And so we target families and disabled and elderly people to make sure that they’re able to celebrate the holidays in a real meaningful way. Building up the American family is one of the greatest ways to help end poverty. When kids grow up in a home where there is a celebration of family ties, and of faith, and of really the goodness of our country, those kids are much more likely to stay in school, be productive, and so we’ll send meals home with literally a couple of thousand families. And then we’ll be serving people on Thanksgiving Day at the Naples shelter called the Campbell Lodge. We’re almost finished with a remodel there and then in Immokalee at the Immokalee Friendship House.
Bob Harden: Great, great work indeed. Wish we had more time to talk about it. But Vann, genuinely appreciate you coming on the show. Again, I want to encourage our listeners to go to stmatthewshouse.org, stmatthewshouse.org. And while you’re there, take a look at the great work being done and also make a contribution, because every dollar goes to help somebody in need. Vann, thank you so much for joining us here on the show.
Vann Ellison: Thanks. It’s great to be with you, Bob.
Bob Harden: Thank you so much.