Our mission is: with respect and compassion, we honor the dignity of all people and strengthen our community by providing essential services to individuals and families who are in need. Our goal is to be responsive to the needs of people who are low-income, unemployed, and working poor in our community as simply and directly as possible.
We operate all programs based on these values:
We welcome people in need and, without judgment, serve them in the least intrusive way possible.
Damiano promotes respect for all people in our workplace practices and in our service to individuals.
We strive to meet the needs of the people we serve by getting to know them personally and responding to their changing needs.
Damiano is an excellent steward of resources. We demonstrate honesty, integrity and accountability in the use of resources and in all relationships, dealings and transactions.
The idea was that meals would be served until the need subsided, but that has never happened. The 40th anniversary of the opening of the Soup Kitchen was noted in 2022, and the Damiano Center serves many times the number of people than were served at the beginning.
When it became apparent that the need and the organization were going to continue, Damiano sought and received 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The Ordean Foundation of Duluth gave Damiano the first of many grants. Bishop Anderson signed the school building over to the organization, with the qualification that it be named after San Damiano Church, where St. Francis of Assisi received his call.
Soon after the meals began, volunteers began bringing clothing to share. This was the beginning of the Clothing Exchange, now known as the Free Store. People who need meals and clothing often have other needs too, and soon Community Services was opened. These three original programs have continued to provide essential, emergency assistance now for more than 35 years. In 1998 the Clothes That Work program opened; now it helps over 2,000 people a year find clothing for work or job interviews. In 2001, Kids' Kitchen began, and it continues to provide meals, educational activities (with an emphasis on food and organic gardening), and a safe place to be for over 250 neighborhood children each year.
The striking red-brick school building that is our home has proven to be a fruitful place for the work we do. Many other nonprofits have rented office space at Damiano, and frequently people stop by for a look and reminisce about when they worked or went to school here.
The Damiano Center began as a spontaneous response to need, and it grew to provide multi-faceted emergency services, leading to it becoming a quintessential community organization. Hundreds of individual donors, foundations, community groups, corporations, businesses, and hundreds of volunteers each year keep the Center going. All services at Damiano are offered free of charge.
During the deep recession of the early 1980s, which hit Duluth particularly hard, people began lining up at the former Catholic convent on 2nd Avenue, and at a commune just down the hill. The demand was greater than these small places could easily manage, and an ecumenical group of citizens began to plan for a better way to feed their neighbors.
The neighborhood around the intersection of Fourth Street and Second Avenue West, above downtown Duluth, had been the campus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth since the late 19th century. However, by 1981, the diocese activities had moved to other parts of the city. The former Sacred Heart School building stood vacant, and the group providing meals asked Bishop Paul Anderson if they could use the kitchen in the old school. He agreed, and on March 15th, 1982 the Soup Kitchen, now Community Kitchen, served its first meal.