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Damiano Center marks its 35th anniversary

Local musicians Tim Jenkins and Terrence Smith patch the roof of the Damiano Center in 1985. The photo caption at the time read, "Just like the red-blooded Americans they are, [they] decided to fix it, free of charge." (Photo by John Rott, Duluth News Tribune)1 / 2
Yearbook photo of Cathedral High School, which later became the Damiano Center. (Photo: Wikipedia)2 / 2

Thirty-five years ago on March 15, 1982, the Damiano Center Soup Kitchen served its first meal. It was founded as a temporary program to feed those who were hungry during a recession and now it is the largest emergency meal provider in Northeastern Minnesota.

Since rates of poverty were so high in Duluth in the early 1980s, a number of groups recognized a need for a soup kitchen, including one that was next door to the Sacred Heart Elementary School. The school belonged to the Diocese of Duluth and had been vacant for some time prior to 1982. Built in 1904, it was originally Cathedral Senior High School which later became Marshall School, now located on Rice Lake Road. The Soup Kitchen group asked Bishop Paul Anderson if they could use the commercial kitchen and cafeteria of the elementary school until the need subsided.

It became evident that the need would not subside and the Diocese signed the building over to the nonprofit for $1.00 with the stipulation that it be called Damiano after San Damiano Church in Italy. This was where St. Francis of Assisi had received his call to service. St. Francis is esteemed by many faiths as a model of service to the needy.

The Damiano Center has grown significantly in the past 35 years, and in addition to the Soup Kitchen, it now offers free apparel, household goods, children's programming, cognitive skill-building meetings, referrals, and assistance with various other basic needs. It is able to operate through the generosity of community donations and volunteers.

There will be an anniversary celebration at Damiano in late April. It will be an invitation-only event that will include founders, past board and staff and long-time volunteers and supporters. People are encouraged to call the Damiano Center at (218) 722-8708 if you have information about its founding or any historical information to share.

More information can be found at