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From cooking to crosses, L-40 retiree helps the homeless

L-40 retiree Calvin Minton makes crosses from railroad spikes to raise money for the homeless.

WHEN CALVIN MINTON from Local 40 (Elizabethtown, Kentucky) retired in 2013, he’d planned to volunteer to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. A heart attack and hip replacement shifted that plan to something a bit less demanding. Instead, Minton uses his culinary skills to feed the homeless and his blacksmithing skills to raise money for a local shelter for the homeless.

For years, area churches around Elizabethtown banded together in the winters to give the homeless a warm place to sleep and a hot meal. One church would feed them on cold winter nights, and another would house them.

“Being an old, fat country boy I’m a pretty good cook, so I started to cook for them,” Minton says, followed by a hearty laugh. Once a week he’d purchase enough food for about 60 people and turn out tasty dishes.

“I read a Bible verse about never turning your back on a stranger,” he says, noting that was what led him to volunteer.

Eventually, two men from the church community opened a shelter for the homeless—Homeless Intervention Services. With the new shelter in place, Minton wanted to do even more to help. His grandson gave him the idea to use his blacksmithing skills to do it.

When he still worked in the field, Minton forged a tool that would pick off welding slag. So, when his grandson begged for a play knife, Minton figured he’d learn how to make one. He found a used anvil for around $200, and a vice—an old-style one from 1903. After watching a few YouTube videos, he forged the knife.

“It was more like a butter knife, but it was a knife,” he says.

While scrolling through YouTube, he ran across a video detailing how to make keychain-sized crosses and decided, since he had the equipment, he’d try to make one—but in a larger size. He quickly learned how to make crosses, customize them with a Bible verse and offer them to people in the community who would be willing to donate to the homeless center.

The crosses, made from a railroad spike, takes approximately a week to forge. He usually makes five or six at a time. The first step is to clean the spike, which can take upwards of three hours. After layout, he cuts it with an angle grinder.

“Day three—that’s when the ‘heat and meet’ starts,” Minton says. He hammers out the crosses in a few hours. “And I have to coat it with something or it will rust just about overnight.” He uses a beeswax mixture, which takes a couple days to cure. When the cross is complete, he makes a stole out of metal to drape across the top. He has a friend who makes the bases and a local shop that does the engraving.

The average donation for a cross runs from $75 to $200. Between his crosses and the fundraisers he’s headed up, he’s been able to donate close to $5,000 to date to the shelter.

“It’s been an adventure that I hope doesn’t run out anytime soon,” Minton says.