“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” reads Matthew 25:40 in the NIV Bible. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
It’s a message heard loud and clear by the Cedar Rapids nonprofit Matthew 25, whose mission includes uplifting the most vulnerable in and around Iowa’s second-largest city.
“The whole idea started with this philosophy of asset-based community,” explained Executive Director Clint Twedt-Ball, who founded Matthew 25 with his brother Courtney Ball. “We’d go into a neighborhood people would typically deem as low income, low performing education, high crime, and say, what are the awesome things about this community that we can help preserve?”
Matthew 25 has been a staple in the CR community since 2006. Starting in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church, the organization began by offering reading assistance to Taylor Elementary students. Today, they grow and collect affordable food through their Cultivate Hope Corner Store, provide pay-what-you-can meals at Groundswell Cafe, and educate kids and adults alike about gardening, cooking and eating through classes and Food Camps, among other projects.
“The most rewarding part of this work is connecting people with needs to a path that helps them figure out their future,” said Brenner Myers, the Neighborhood Building Director for Matthew 25. “We’re helping people get assistance on difficult issues they might not know how to tackle and helping them improve their homes at no cost.”
The organization’s strength comes from locating what a hurting community needs. Following the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, when an inland hurricane with winds up to 140 mph took out 70 percent of Cedar Rapids’ tree cover, Matthew 25 implemented the PATCH program to coordinate repairs for 200 homeowners affected by the devastation.
“We jumped into the PATCH program because there was a huge need and not many nonprofits were doing that,” Twedt-Ball said. “We helped get it up and running with initial coordination and are now back to doing core neighborhood revitalization as the city takes over.”
Through PATCH, contractors were able to tarp, patch up and aid with roof replacement for derecho victims on a fixed income with help from the city and Housing Trust Fund for Linn County. Though Matthew 25’s involvement in PATCH has winded down in recent years, their dedication to providing, maintaining and increasing the availability and stock of affordable housing has not.
“We have 18 affordable rental units we do property management for with the hopes of adding more,” Myers said. “We maintain those and rent them out at our affordability limits then buy homes that need work and rehabilitate those new buildings with the intent of rolling them into our rental profile.”
“We’re constantly scanning the neighborhood for homes falling in disrepair or may not be the highest quality rentals and if we can purchase those and put money in to make them higher quality we do that alongside our Tool Library,” added Twedt-Ball.
Home improvement is an uphill battle filled with expensive, ongoing costs — a fact that isn’t lost on Matthew 25. If locals want to make a repair on their own but don’t have the tools, they can rent them from Matthew 25’s Tool Library for little to no charge.
“We get a lot of tools donated to us and then those tools are loaded into the system My Turn so we can rent those tools,” explained Frank Ditiri, a volunteer of two years with the Tool Library. “We process the tools, make sure that they work and determine if we can use them in our rental pool. Otherwise we sell them and use that money to help maintain and replace tools.”
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The Tool Library, run mostly by volunteers, has been open since 2008. Renting out small tools, hand tools and large tools to anyone in need, the library also provides safety training on said tools when necessary. Tools are sold or loaned either online or in person, and the inventory is endless, including everything from drywall jacks and ladders to tile saws and rakes.
“It was right after the flood and some friends of ours who were pastors in Michigan called us up and said they had loaded a truck with tools they’d bring over to neighbors,” said Twedt-Ball. “Almost that exact day someone said they had a warehouse that had been cleaned up by their church after the flood. They said it would be used by God for something and that was what became the Tool Library.”
“A lady came devastated after someone broke in and stole the toolbox we provided her,” said Ditiri. “We were able to get her a toolbox through donations and she had tears in her eyes thanking us for what we do. It’s so rewarding seeing such a positive impact.”
And that’s only one way volunteers get involved throughout the year. Their budding volunteer program extends beyond the Tool Library to planting vegetables at the Urban Farm and aiding with home construction during Transform Week in June. During that week, more than 300 volunteers assist with various home repairs, including gardening, painting and other landscaping needs.
Applications are available now for those seeking Matthew 25’s services in 2024.
“Volunteers put together a description of tools needed for each house and then we start pulling tools and putting them into kits for them to take to the job site and do the work,” Ditiri explained. “We all do our part and make sure everybody has what they need to accomplish during Transform Week.”
“Our Transform Program is geared towards getting people in their homes to stay in their homes,” Myers added. “We want to maintain them so more houses aren’t lost from the stock that’s available.”
Matthew 25 is still finding new and thoughtful ways to strengthen the four pillars of their mission — education, housing, food and community building — especially ahead of the chilly holiday season.
“We’re returning to normalcy a bit after 2020 and it’s cool to see the lots we’ve staked out to start digging out basements and building houses,” Myers said. “We’re really hoping to expand affordable housing and start construction on that before it gets cold out.”
Cedar Rapids has seen its fair share of disasters in the past two decades, but Twedt-Ball said these challenges have only made Matthew 25’s resolve stronger.
“We’ve had times when funding was tight, we’ve had to shut down the cafe in the pandemic, we had the roof of our building blown off, and it just takes grit,” he said. “We just feel called to this and are passionate about work that is bigger than us.”
This article was originally published in Little Village’s November 2023 issue.