Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Rick’s Place welcomes vets and their families

Posted on 25 September 2017 by calvin

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Rick’s Place is not your ordinary coffee shop. Walking through the doors of the storefront at 4307 E. 54th St., it feels informal and welcoming—but there’s not much that’s trendy about it.

Rick’s Place opened in late July as a gathering spot for veterans and their families, as well as members of the community. The owners proudly state that, by choice, there’s no WiFi. It’s a place where people can come to enjoy a cup of coffee and baked goods from Berry Sweet Kitchens just down the street, and it won’t cost much. It’s place where people, and especially war veterans, can come to connect with each other—and to feel safe.

Rick’s Place is currently open Monday through Friday from 8am-2pm, but that will likely change in the fall to an earlier start time. There is no charge for coffee or treats, though donations are welcome.

Tom Mckenna and his wife Jessi are the driving force behind Rick’s Place. Mckenna, whose job title is, ”Head Veteran Supporter,” was a member of the United States Marine Corps. He served on active duty from the time he was 18 until he turned 22. “When we were thinking about opening this place,” he said, “what we really wanted was to bring awareness to the veteran suicide epidemic. It’s estimated that as many as 20 vets kill themselves every day in this country.”

Master Sergeant Rick Gustafson, for whom Rick’s Place is named, was one of those vets. Gustafson was a member of the US Navy and the Air Force Special Operations Unit for 19 years, serving nine full combat deployments and several smaller missions during that time.

“Only about 10% of the military actually expects to see combat,” Mckenna said, “but Gustafson did in every one of his deployments. As a tactical air controller, his job was to parachute behind enemy lines to identify targets. For that to occur, he had to get really close. In the end, he was volunteering for deployments so that younger soldiers wouldn’t have to.”

Rick Gustafson committed suicide in May of 2015 while suffering from serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a diagnosis that’s been around for as long as there have been wars.

Rick's Place 12Photo right: Tom Mckenna, Head Veteran Supporter at Rick’s Place with Mack, his service dog. Like more than half a million vets, Mckenna suffers from PTSD symptoms, which a service dog can help alleviate. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Opening Rick’s Place was something tangible that Tom and Jessi Mckenna could do for vets in this community. It sprang out of work their family had been doing for more than a decade.

Along with their three kids Brendan (19), Shannon (17), and Kayla (16), the couple had spent the last ten years collecting clothing, blankets, and personal care items, and delivering them all over Minneapolis to vets experiencing homelessness.

“The first time I met a homeless vet on the street, I asked him what he needed,” Mckenna said. “I expected him to say money, and I had a $20 bill ready. Instead, he said, ‘I need socks and underwear,’ so we walked to the nearest store we could find and bought him those things.”

He continued, “I’ve been through many programs and therapies at the VA (Veteran’s Administration). They do a great job, but they focus only on the veteran, and everyone else is secondary. Here at Rick’s Place, and at the nonprofit we operate next door called Every Third Saturday, we welcome spouses and extended families as well as vets. There’s healing power in being with a small group of people that have been through the same thing, and we’re cultivating that here.”

True to its name, Every Third Saturday opens its doors wide on the third Saturday of each month from 11am-1pm. Staff and volunteers distribute all manner of seasonal clothing, personal care items, sleeping bags, quilts, and more to vets who need them. The Every Third Saturday office is open from 8am-2pm, Monday through Friday. Mckenna said, “We encourage vets to come in during those hours whenever they need supplies or resources. Our biggest distribution day is every third Saturday, but we want vets to know that the office is open more than one day a month.”

Call 952-356-5116 with any questions about Rick’s Place, or to donate money or clothing to Every Third Saturday.

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