OUT OF THE BLUE
After Tom McKenna was discharged from the Marines he was a truck driver making deliveries around the Twin Cities. One day while on a route in the northern suburbs he saw a man in the median holding a sign stating he was a homeless vet. At that time, as Tom tells the story, he never fathomed a veteran would be homeless. Tom continued his day with that thought in his mind.
The next day while on the same route he saw the same man holding the same sign. Tom did not stop. The next day same route, same man, same sign. Tom made eye contact then drove on. Something, however, nagged at him and he diverted from his route and drove past again. This time he stopped. He got out of his truck and offered the man 20 dollars. The man appreciated the gesture but said what he really needed was some clean socks and underwear. Together Tom and the man went to a store to buy some socks and underwear. Tom has never seen the man since, but that encounter left an indelible impression on his life.
AN IDEA IS BORN
It was that chance encounter with a homeless veteran that lead Tom and his wife Jessi to where they are today. Tom and Jessi run a non-profit called Every Third Saturday.
The beginnings were humble and heartfelt, “we didn’t even have a name”, McKenna says about the start. Early on Tom, his wife Jessi and their kids would load into their mini-van and drive around Minneapolis and St. Paul looking for homeless veterans. When they’d find someone in need they would stop and hand out blankets, care kits and other essentials.
As a few years passed Tom and Jessi didn’t think this model was sustainable so they contacted the VA in Minneapolis and asked if the could set up a trailer in the parking lot every third Saturday. During those Saturdays items would be handed out, contact was made, relationships were being formed.
Today Every Third Saturday operates out of a series of storefronts on 54th Street just blocks from the Veterans Administration building. Tom and Jessi have their sights on bigger things including moving across the street into a new space where they will be able to continue what they’ve started.
Tom is quick to open up about hurdles in life he has had to work to clear. There are days when Tom feels overwhelmed. During these times he ‘pops smoke’. Pop smoke is a campaign that is descriptive in nature. Veterans will know what it means right away. For those of us who are not veterans popping smoke is a term used when a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine finds him or herself in a dire situation in which they need to be extracted. They pull out a smoke signal and set if off so that helpers, friends, and battle buddies can find them. Tom pops smoke. He wants other veterans and their families to know there is no shame in popping smoke; if you do it he wants you to know help is on the way.