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In O’Neil’s name, community registry aims to furnish new apartments

The Steve O’Neil Apartments project is well underway this week on Fourth Street between First and Second avenues West. Organizers have started a “housewarming registry” to help raise money and time to furnish the apartments, which will provide a home for families in the community who are in greatest need. (Bob King /

An innovative “housewarming registry” to furnish the Steve O’Neil apartments will allow donors to sponsor the cost of everything from a $4 dish towel to the contents of a two-bedroom apartment, a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life to helping families in need.

“It is the first time that we’ve done anything like this,” said Lee Stuart, executive director of the nonprofit CHUM. “We want it so everyone can feel like they can participate.”

The community registry campaign to furnish the new Emergency Family Shelter and Hillside Apartments in Duluth, which will bear O’Neil’s name, is similar to a bridal registry and will have its official launch Tuesday. Organizers hope that donations of time, materials and money from an array of individuals and companies will cover the estimated $300,000 cost to outfit the units.

O’Neil, the late St. Louis County commissioner and community organizer, died of cancer in July 2013.

O’Neil was involved in a number of local charities including Loaves & Fishes and CHUM, a nondenominational faith-based group providing social services. He also was active in a number of campaigns, including efforts to end local homelessness, reduce

secondhand smoke, direct Community Development Grant Funds to help people in greatest need, and remove potentially dangerous fuel tanks from Duluth’s Lincoln Park.

A ceremony to mark the effort will be held at Sacred Heart Music Center in Duluth as part of CHUM’s spring assembly. A site also will be launched on the group’s Facebook page.

“My goal is to have everything ready by November, because that’s the earliest possible date that the building would be done and ready to move into,” said Stuart, who came up with the registry concept. “People could furnish whole apartments or they could buy the dish towels.

“We’re going to have 44 units of apartments for families with children who’ve been homeless, and six units of emergency shelter,” Stuart said.

The cost of furnishing an efficiency is about $3,000; a one-bedroom, $4,000; a two-bedroom, $5,000; and a three-bedroom, $6,000, Stuart said.

Community groups and area businesses already have made commitments of time and resources. Target, for example, has agreed to work with the group to provide items such as blenders, while Loll Design in West Duluth is helping with furniture, Stuart said. Groups such as the Duluth Woodworking Club and

Duluth-Superior Society of Friends plan to build furniture for the units.

Members of the woodworking club, which was formed less than two years ago and has members from across the Northland, will work in teams to reach their goal of making 69 beds, club treasurer Michael Koppy said.

“Everybody thought it was a great idea. It was unanimous,” Koppy said of his group members’ reaction to the project. “We’re going to have several sessions here to make this. It’s going to take quite a bit of work and coordination.”

Koppy said HDL (Hardware Distributors) of Sauk Rapids, Minn., donated the hardware for the beds, while Acme Tool in Lincoln Park has pledged to supply fasteners and other items to connect the parts of the beds.

“(It’s) the desire to do something for the community, and people are really excited,” Koppy said. “If they were going to have to purchase these beds it would be something like $45,000 to buy all these beds that we’re going to make.

“Part of the appeal is to have such a big impact on helping people,” Koppy said.

Angie Miller, who was married to O’Neil, has pledged that her family will buy 50 toasters for the units, noting that her husband was a big supporter of the housing project.

She said the choice of toasters had a personal meaning.

“Every morning, for as long as I had known Steve, he would have Uncle Paul’s toast from the Third Street Bakery,” she said. “I just thought toasters would be great.”

Miller said the total cost should run between $700 and $1,000 for the appliances.

“For people who come to a shelter with literally just the clothes on their back,” Miller said of the housing, “It will change their lives the moment they walk in the door.

“I think the whole project is really wonderful, really fitting,” Miller said. “Fifty toasters is the least I can do.”