From its Roseville location, Bridging has distributed more than 200,000 gently used furniture and household good items to some 11,000 households moving out of homlessness and poverty and into apartments or other living quarters.
Last fall, Bridging celebrated the fifth anniversary of its Roseville location. It's the latest milestone for the non-profit organization that has become so successful in distributing donated furniture and household goods free to needy people that it has outgrown serving people just from its Bloomington location.
The brainchild behind the philanthropic venture: Fran Heitzman, who turns 87 next month. Heitzman came up with the idea for Bridging in 1987 while he was a maintenance man for Pax Christi Church in Eden Prairie.
Heitzman, in a recent interview with Roseville Patch, recalled one day a woman came to the church looking to drop off a used baby crib for the nursery. The church had no need for the crib, but Heitzman vowed to find a new home for it.
In the process, Heitzman said he wondered, "Why can't we take in things that people don't need and give it to someone who does need it? This is not rocket science."
Thus began Bridging.
Heitzman, a former entrepreneur who once ran a landscaping business, said the name Bridging is appropos because the organization "bridges" the gap between "the have nots and the haves."
"We all have stuff," Heitzman said. "Give it away and you'll make someone really happy."
Through the years, Bridging has encountered its ups and downs. But it has always found a way to persevere, survive and move on the next level, Heitzman said.
Bridging began operating out of spare space from a warehouse and has kept growing and growing. Ten years after its founding, Bridging built its own facility, a 26,000 square office and warehouse building in Bloomington.
Now, Bridging annually serves nearly 5,000 households and more than 13,000 individuals combined from its Bloomington and Roseville locations. Bridging also works with some 120 referral agencies to match the household donations with individuals and families that need them.
Diana Dalsin, Bridging's community relations manager, said that about 60 percent of the nonprofit's donations come from homes with the rest from hotels, restaurants and retailers.
"If somebody had told me that it (Bridging) would be what it is today, I would have told them they are out of their mind," Heitzman said.
Bridging has a paid staff of about 20 employee and an annual budget of about $2 million, according to officials with the nonprofit.
But the overwhelming bulk of its work is carried out by some 6,500 volunteers donating about 85,000 hours of free labor each year to help collect, sort out and display the used merchandise. Several truckloads of furniture and household goods move in and out of Bridging's Roseville and Bloomington locations each week.
Sara Sternberger, Bridging executive director, said Heitzman has an outgoing personality that has helped the organization weather its ups and downs. "He keeps the eye on the prize," she said. "He remembers the kid sleeping on the floor without a bed. That keeps him going everyday."
Bridging volunteers, like Sue Beane of White Bear Lakel, are equally impressed with Heitzman. "He is full of energy. He has inspiring stories," said Beane, a retired insurance claims processer who has been at volunteer at the Roseville Bridging location since it opened.
While Bridging has been a blessing to thousands of people, the humble Heitzman insisted he also has been blessed. "I don't have any money but I am the richest person in the world," he insisted. "I measure my richness by how maniy people can I help today."
To learn more visit www.bridging.org.