Mother Mary Blessed by Retail Chain

Copeland's orphanage to open at Supertarget

MINNETONKA, May 15, 2004--Pres. George Bush, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman joined more than 500 Minnesota business leaders and Target patrons yesterday morning to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for Mary Jo Copeland's 200-bed orphanage.

The Gift of Mary Children's Home, which had been rejected by seven metro-area cities since God approached Copeland about the idea four years ago, will be built on the roof of the 200,000-square-foot SuperTarget store at the intersection of highways 7 and 101 in Minnetonka, and is scheduled to be completed in time for the busy holiday shopping season in late 2005.

Sixty homeless children ages 4 to 11--dressed in Mossimo khakis, bright-red Cherokee T-shirts, and clean white Pro Spirit sneakers--handed out buttons featuring the red bull's-eye logo, offered sushi samples from the deli, and lunched on all-beef McDonald's hamburgers and Pepsi products donated by a nearby public school. Copeland--lauded for founding Sharing and Caring Hands, a day shelter in Minneapolis--knelt down near a fountain beneath the store's neon sign, washed the feet of weary suburban shoppers, and shed the occasional tear for a pool of news photographers.

"America is at war," President Bush said during a 16-minute speech that began with a prayer for U.S. troops fighting the war on terrorism in France and ended with a carefully worded message to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who recently agreed to stop murdering innocent women, but have yet to decide whether innocent children should be spared, during next month's peace talks.

"The message that Mary Jo Copeland and the good people at Target are sending to the evildoers is loud and clear," the president said. "No matter what you do, we will never give up our faith in God or our belief in the American way of life."

Target agreed to be Copeland's leading corporate sponsor in May 2000, then pledged $30 million to help pay building costs once a location for her orphanage was secured.

But pointy-headed researchers from the U.S. Surgeon General's office and so-called experts in the fields of pediatrics, psychology, and child development questioned the need for warehousing minors and argued against its efficacy. When voters in Eagan cast Copeland out two years ago, she and Target joined forces to part the sea of public opinion.

"In the beginning, we just wanted to show our corporate peers that it's possible to create a spiritual synergy between charitable giving and self-serving subliminal advertising," said Target marketing director Theresa Saint, who plans to unveil a line of Copeland's High-Buttoned Shirts in the fall. "But when no one would let Mary Jo build her dream home, it hit us like bolt of lightning: The best place to raise a disadvantaged child is in a land of plenty. And the best family for an orphaned child is the Target family."

The three-story orphanage, designed by architect Michael Graves, is to be connected to the SuperTarget via freight elevators and will contain two wings and 32 "family pods" consisting of eight children and one adult supervisor apiece. Each pod will include a living room featuring a QBits Modular Furniture System, a dining room decorated with Furio brand tableware, and a kitchen stocked with bottled water and freshly baked bread from the downstairs bakery. All those in residence will have access to Target's automated restrooms and optical services.

Saint hopes the shelter's proximity to a SuperTarget will quiet critics who point to research suggesting that children placed in large group settings are more likely than their foster-care counterparts to misbehave, lack empathy, exhibit aggressive behavior, fail academically, and become socially stunted. "The young children who behave will be rewarded with discounts on Nintendo games and snacks from Pillsbury, which we think will be both an incentive and an excellent learning experience," she said. "As President Bush has said time and again, to be a good citizen, one must first be a good consumer."

Target also promises that every child who comes of age at the orphanage will be given the opportunity to work one of the 38 registers in the Minnetonka store. "Who knows?" Saint said. "One of these youngsters may one day manage a store of their own!"

At the conclusion of the two-hour ceremony, many of those in attendance moved inside to take a look at what else the Minnetonka Target had to offer.

Governor Pawlenty and Senator Coleman enjoyed cups of decaf espresso and checked their investment portfolios at a nearby E*Trade kiosk. Copeland fielded questions near the customer-service counter, where prospective parents can pick up adoptees for a test drive. Abbott John Klassen of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, looked for a DVD copy of The Ten Commandments in Electronics. Klassen, impressed with the number of quality children's videos, says he was particularly pleased that the staffers at Gift of Mary Children's Home are to be older priests and nuns.

"What better place to school young souls?" Klassen said. "If they misbehave, you can drag them into one of the store's aisles, give them a firm spanking, and scream at them to stop crying. What could be a more normal experience for a youth?"

 

Send e-mail to dschimke@citypages.com.

 
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