In December 2014, Todd Feske saw a Facebook post requesting clothing for the homeless. Todd had the option to drop donations at a shelter, but he wanted to know exactly who he was helping. As an avid hiker, he already knew of some camps in the area, so he collected hats, coats and scarves and made a few initial trips.
He met two men who told him, “Sure, it’s Christmas time and everybody thinks about us now and then forgets about us the rest of the year.” That was not going to be Todd’s way. “I asked them, ‘What do you need and where are you at?’ and I’ve been out ever since.” News of Todd’s work spread quickly, and people on St. Paul’s East Side wanted to help. Within six months, he had created a nonprofit: Walking With a Purpose.
For the first four years, Todd worked out of an unheated garage until he connected with Gabrielle Clowdus, co-founder of Woodland Hill’s partner organization, Settled. She happened to see a photo of Todd’s WWAP van, and called his number. Todd said, “I didn’t have influence or money. I prayed for one person that knew the next person, so when Gabrielle called, I knew, ‘That’s it.’ She had the resources, but no connection to the homeless. I had the connections but no resources.”
Gabrielle connected Todd with Woodland, and in 2018, Woodland raised the money to make space in our building to store supplies and serve as a “home base” for WWAP.
Walking With a Purpose focuses on the chronically homeless, not those staying in shelters. Todd explains, “We deal with the bottom, the very bottom. These are the ones not being served. I did give at shelters, but people there had help, these people don’t.”
Every Tuesday, Todd and his volunteers take their two buses and visit about 15 spots. They bring food, clothing, camping supplies and compassion. On Thursday nights they stay at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, so people who didn’t see them on Tuesdays know where to find them. Every week they serve 75-100 people.
When people come to the buses, they sit inside, sip hot chocolate, and talk. Todd says, “We give them a good moment in a bad life. We laugh and pray, make connections and we really know them. It’s more than going out and throwing stuff in bins and saying, ‘Here: take what you want.’”
Walking With a Purpose emphasizes relationships and trust. Todd and his volunteers invest in friendships, looking beyond outward appearances and offering empathy without judgment.
Todd describes this work of building relationships as rewarding but emotionally challenging. “We listen to hard stories, we feel their pain with frostbite. We’ve dealt with rape, and trafficking. I found one of my favorite people dead. It’s hard.” Yet even in these difficult circumstances, the consistency and persistent love offered by WWAP has changed lives. One couple told Todd, “The government and the police come and tell us what to do. But you didn’t ask anything from us, and you kept coming back. We learned to trust you, and because we could trust you, we figured we could trust other people, too.”
Many of us encounter homeless people in our day to day lives. How should we respond? Todd says, “When you see people on the street, you usually have one of two trains of thought: ‘I wonder what they did wrong,’ or, ‘I wonder what happened to them,’ but I think when God sees homeless people, he sees the opportunity for us to do his will. And the amazing thing about doing God’s will is that we already have what we need. We already have the love and compassion. When I started, I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but I managed to get two pennies, and the rest was the generosity and grace of God.”
If you’d like to give to Walking With a Purpose, check out their website here. Their current needs are funds for upkeep of their buses (both had catalytic converters stolen recently), and donations to keep people warm. Specifically, things like: toe warmers, candles, batteries, flashlights, sweatpants and thermals.
Thank you to Todd and the WWAP volunteers for the ongoing love you show. We are grateful to share space with you!