Community Orgs Nonprofits Food+Drink

Need for Meal Donations, Community Support Continues to Grow for Sojourner House

E.C.’s overnight homeless shelter relies on donations to aid its guests, including food

McKenna Scherer |

SUPPORTING SOJOURNER. Located at 618 S Barstow St., Eau Claire, Sojourner House provides a safe, warm shelter and a meal each night to a maximum of 53 guests. It provides a majority of its meals through donations.

Homelessness in Eau Claire – and the nation, for that matter – is not a new issue or topic of conversation. Sojourner House, a low-barrier overnight homeless shelter operated by Catholic Charities, is also not new to Eau Claire, having opened in November 2011.

Sojourner House provides the homeless a place to bathe, sleep, and eat, among its other offerings, but many locals have been surprised to learn the organization almost entirely relies on the donations of others to provide food to its guests. Sojourner House can shelter, at maximum, 53 guests overnight, but during freezing weather (15º Fahrenheit and below) the building becomes an overflow site to house as many as it can.

That means Sojourner House needs to feed at least 53 individuals nightly plus provide breakfast in the morning. The site is open from 7pm-8am every day of the year for guests and currently has 36 beds for men and 16 beds for women.



SOJOURNER HOUSE SHELTER COORDINATOR, explaining that a majority of the nonprofit's budget only covers the building and its staff

Sojourner House volunteer, Marta Jaenke, moved to Eau Claire from the Portland, Oregon, area about one year ago and began working at Sojourner House shortly afterward. New to the Chippewa Valley but not to the nonprofit world, Marta jumped into community outreach efforts to source meals from willing community members, organizations, and businesses.

The need for food donations became even more urgent after Sojourner House’s largest meal provider – which donated 16 meals per month – ceased donations last February. Marta began reaching out to local restaurants and grocery stores, and eventually made a public post to the popular and contentious Facebook group, the Eau Claire Foodies.

One of Marta’s first posts to the 20,000-plus member group was made last Christmas Eve. That day, when many businesses were closed for the holiday, the meal provider canceled. Sojourner House’s staff and volunteers began scrambling to fill the suddenly empty meal slot.

“That was the beginning of all this (efforts made through the Foodies group). We were all like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ just blown away,” Marta recalled. “People were messaging me to say they had just picked up party-size meals and were on their way from the store, and we ended up with enough donations to where there was food for that night and the next.”

C&T's Soul Food staff pictured with meal donations.
C&T's Soul Food staff pictured with meal donations.

Since then, local eateries and businesses such as C&T’s Soul Food, Egg Rolls and More, Eau Claire Cheese and Deli, HyVee, and others have been donating to Sojourner House, some doing so regularly alongside the many area churches that consistently donate. Due to the reaction from the Foodies group, where so many members asked how they could help and provide donations, a new program at the shelter took shape: A Community Potluck dinner is now offered two Saturdays a month.

“People had asked how they can help without having to provide a whole meal for 55-plus people, like, ‘Can I just bring one dish?’ So now we provide that option (through the) twice-monthly Community Potluck,” Marta explained. “Being able to rely on community donations for meals or businesses that want to donate meals, that’s super important.”

Being a nonprofit organization, Sojourner House’s budget is slim, leading the organization’s director and those at Catholic Charities to allocate funding where it is most needed. That means most of its yearly budget is spent on staffing and keeping the lights on.

Clare Dellinger, Shelter Coordinator at Sojourner House, said without community meal donations, the organization would likely not be able to feed its guests every day.

“Because we are serving at least 53 people a night, if we had to rely on our budget to feed that many people, we’d be closed,” Clare said. “It’s so important (for our guests) to know they can come here and know it’s a safe place for them where they can have a warm place to sleep and warm food in their stomach.”

“We have people who have been coming here for a while, and we have people who come here and have never been homeless in their life. They have no clue how to ‘be’ homeless. ... Being homeless and then navigating homeless life are two very traumatic, separate situations.”



Even with the new donations from some local eateries and businesses, there are nearly always meals that still need to be spoken for and supplied, as well as volunteer shifts that need to be filled.

For example, as of Tuesday, Oct. 24, there were five meal slots open for November. If not filled, that would mean no meal for 53 people each of those five nights. For the month of December, there were also five meal slots open. Six volunteer shifts in November and more in December were also still empty.

In a situation where one night of meals is not donated, the Sojourner House staff typically orders pizza and uses coupons to help with costs, Clare said.

“It’s great to see community members wanting to offer (donations) because we understand budgets are tight for everyone with inflation and various things,” Clare said. “Donations that people are able to give us ensure we can move forward and have a community homeless facility.

“We utilize and work with a lot of church groups in the area which is super great, and a lot of them are very consistent,” Clare continued. “We want to expand our relationship with area churches (and organizations) … Even though we’re a Catholic organization, anyone can volunteer here or donate to us. We want to keep this a natural space where anybody can feel safe and comfortable here.”

With winter on the horizon, the amount of people who look to Sojourner House for shelter and support will increase. Already, the shelter is regularly turning away 10 to 15 people per night because they have reached capacity. The shelter is also in need of winter-geared donations, such as winter jackets, sweatshirts and sweatpants, socks, hygiene and first-aid supplies, and more.

“We have people who have been coming here for a while, and we have people who come here and have never been homeless in their life,” Clare said. “They have no clue how to ‘be’ homeless. How to deal with the weather, find out what time it is, how to figure out the bus transportation system, or how to make appointments. … Being homeless is a traumatic experience for whatever reason you become homeless.

According to 2022 estimates, more than 10,000 people were living in poverty in the City of Eau Claire. Across Eau Claire County, more than 13,000 people lived in poverty. By those reported metrics, the City of Eau Claire makes up about 65% of the county’s total population but accounts for nearly 80% of those in the county who live in poverty.

metrics via the 2022 u.s. census bureau estimates

“Being homeless and then navigating homeless life are two very traumatic, separate situations,” Clare said. “So, we obviously help our guests navigate that, and we want every night here to be safe for them.”

Without the Sojourner House staff – a team of 12 that runs the open-year-round organization – operations would cease. Even with this incredibly dedicated team, the need for volunteers continues to grow as the need for more support also grows.

The United States Census Bureau estimated the City of Eau Claire’s population was about 69,737 with its poverty rate at 15.5% as of July 1, 2022. Eau Claire County’s population was estimated at 106,837 with its poverty rate at 12.5%. By those reported metrics, the City of Eau Claire makes up about 65% of the county’s total population but accounts for more than 80% of those in the county who live in poverty.

“Our staff do what they can to make sure everyone who stays here feels safe,” Clare said. “They go throughout their day-to-day life with people ignoring them, ignoring their entire existence.”

Eau Claire County’s population continues to rise, as does the number of those experiencing poverty and homelessness. As the only overnight homeless shelter in Eau Claire, the Sojourner House will continue its efforts and seek additional community collaboration. The only requirement for food donation is that items are not expired. 

Those interested in learning more about how to volunteer and donate may reach out to Clare Dellinger directly at or (715) 450-5835 • Sojourner House does not currently have a set time for donation drop-offs but will always work with community members who are looking to donate, which Clare facilitates • Join the public Facebook group, Sojourner House - Eau Claire, to keep up to date with the shelter • Click here to sign up for future Community Potluck and meal coverage • Sojourner House's Amazon wish list