MANKATO — First Presbyterian Church found another way to use its surplus space, this time welcoming the Rural AIDS Action Network into its bottom floor.

The lease comes after the church began leasing its upstairs to Connections Shelter in May. RAAN completed the move into space previously used for storage in July.

The move to a more central location in downtown Mankato will make it easier for clients to access the nonprofit’s services, said Executive Director Mary McCarthy.

“Being downtown is just amazing,” she said. “Previously we were out of town, and it was a little bit challenging for some of our clients that didn’t have access to transportation or had other barriers to getting there.”

First Presbyterian’s space provides another benefit for clients. A discreet entrance in the alley behind the church affords clients privacy coming in and out.

First Presbyterian’s leadership had been exploring options for the space it didn’t need for a while. Talks with RAAN began in early 2020 after the church found out the nonprofit was looking for space.

The church’s positive experience with the Connections team for the upstairs space coupled with the recognition that it had more space available led them to invite RAAN for a tour, said Director of Outreach and Faith Formation Bailey DeVetter.

“We’ve definitely had a surplus of space for a while, so we’d much rather share it with our community partners than have it go to waste,” she said.

RAAN’s Mankato office is one of five across the state. The nonprofit offers services ranging from HIV testing to syringe exchanges to support groups.

The work always feels important, McCarthy said, but COVID adds a different dynamic to the services. Virtual and telehealth services have taken on an increased role during the pandemic.

Support groups are using them to keep connected, along with staff helping clients with case management. The latter allows people with compromised immune systems to receive the services without needing to go out in public.

Still, some clients are missing the in-person connections they had before the pandemic, McCarthy said. Being under the same roof as the church means RAAN might pick up some tips on how to remain in touch with people using technology.

“They’ve already figured out how to keep connected with their community virtually, so there may be things we could learn or borrow from them,” McCarthy said.

She commended the church for making the move during a pandemic as easy as possible. DeVetter said the church’s new adventure with nonprofits housed upstairs and downstairs made sense given the extra space, especially during the pandemic when in-person services aren’t happening.

“We’re so excited to partner with such a great and well-established organization,” she said. “It’s just one of the many ways that we’re trying to put faith into action.”

All but the phones are installed in RAAN’s new space — installation is set for Friday and staff are using cellphones in the meantime. The focus will next be on being good stewards of the space, McCarthy said.

After about four years on Ninth Avenue and being on Riverfront Drive before then, establishing a long-term location would be another bonus for clients, she added.

“It takes folks a while to find us again,” she said. “We’re hoping that this is our home for some time to come.”

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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