A few years ago, Tom McKenna was in quite a bind.
A decade earlier, McKenna, a Marine Corps veteran, had started an organization to help homeless and struggling veterans after driving past a homeless veteran at an Arden Hills intersection. He took the man to a Walmart and bought him the simplest things he needed most: underwear and socks.
McKenna always wanted to do more. He began making monthly rounds around town, giving out 10 backpacks of socks, underwear, and toiletries to homeless veterans per trip. He then stocked a trailer with clothes and other necessities and distributed them in the Minneapolis, VA parking lot every third Saturday of the month.
Then his fledgling organization, Every Third Saturday, moved into a ramshackle storefront in south Minneapolis, opened a free necessities store, and began hosting programs for veterans. When that building was sold, McKenna raised money to buy an abandoned, century-old gas station across the street and planned to renovate it into a place where the homeless and struggling veterans could socialize.
But the building fell apart. The roof collapsed. A renovation was simply not possible.
Around this time, McKenna received a call from Tip Enebak, who runs Enebak Construction. Enebak had read a Star Tribune story about McKenna and his organization in November 2019. He wanted to help.
“Think big,” advised Enebak McKenna. “What would be best for veterans?”
“And that’s the result,” McKenna said Wednesday morning as hundreds of veterans, advocates and community members gathered at the unveiling of Every Third Saturday’s sparkling new building across Highway 62 from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport – Not far from the VA parking lot where McKenna’s advocacy first took root. “It’s absolutely amazing. I look at it. I can touch it. I can walk through it. I still can’t believe it.”
The 10,000 square foot building, two stories tall and costing nearly $2 million has many features to support and connect veterans. Located on the ground floor is Rick’s Coffee Bar, which employs veterans and is named for an Air Force veteran who committed suicide after nine sorties in the Middle East. The café will host art therapy sessions and has a supply of board games; Anyone can visit, but only veterans and their family members get their coffee for free.
A fitness center will be opened exclusively for veterans and their families. A free store for veterans in need is designed to feel like a retail shopping experience. And the Veterans Resource and Empowerment Center will serve as a community hub and host events such as performance seminars, sporting events watch parties and gaming tournaments.
At Wednesday’s ribbon cutting, McKenna spoke about two veterans who an organization like this could have helped: Master Sgt. Rick Gustafson, whose name is on the cafe and whose parents were left out in the rain. And one of McKenna’s best friends, an Army veteran named Brian, who took his own life last year.
“We did this because there are veterans out there like Brian who kill themselves without the support of other people,” McKenna said. “We just hope that everyone can come to see it the way we see it and bring real hope to the veterans who need that hope and a sense of community.”
As McKenna prepared to cut the ribbon, visitors clamored to get out of the rain for a first look.
“You know what?” said Enebak, whose company is one of the main partners in the project. “God wanted it to rain today. He baptizes this place.”