If there is a cause in dire need of fundraising, Fr. Matthew Keller is the priest to turn to.
V8s for Vocations, the wildly successful campaign which restores classic autos and raffles them off to support seminarians’ education, was Fr. Keller’s brainchild, borne out of his lifelong love for cars.
Now, he’s come up with a new fundraiser for St. Teresa Catholic School in Grants, where he currently serves as pastor. His idea: to transform an old shipping container into a cabin.
Fr. Keller took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to The Voice of the Southwest about the project and answer questions about his plans for the fundraiser.
How did you come up with the idea to renovate a shipping container?
I was racking my brain to come up with something that wouldn’t compete with the cars. Our school’s in dire trouble. And [selling] enchiladas and cookies isn’t going to do it. We need a real fundraiser. I know how to do a national raffle, but I just had to figure out something that’s not a car.
Are you going to be working on it, too? Or is it all going to be a contractor?
We’re going to drop this thing right in front of the school, in front of the gym, so that everybody can see it. You know, parents and family, everybody. So they can see the thing evolve. And I have Knights of Columbus and people around here – contractors – everybody’s already chipping in what they’re going to do. I have somebody from Gallup who said that he would wire it for us.
And yeah, it’s not going to be a problem at all because you have to think about how small it is. It’s not like building a house. And there’s no foundation. There’s no framing. It’s big enough, if we put a bathroom and a shower, a kitchenette. But you know, we want it to be kind of a self-contained house. We can build a patio up on the top. And the awesome thing is the initial investment is pretty small.
Yeah, you mentioned initially – it’s $5,000 for a shipping container?
Less. Maybe $2,500 or so for a 20-foot one like we want.
Was it actually used as a shipping container or do they sell new ones?
I’ll take either one. It has to be in pretty good shape if it is an actual shipping container. And usually what they do is this: They ship something over here from China, it gets put on the rail line, and then those shipping containers get distributed all over the country. So they’re everywhere, especially if they’re close to the railroad. These ones are one single use.
So in other words, they came to the U.S. full of stuff from China or whatever, and then the container is practically new. And that’s how they sell them.
Now, a lot of people have older ones that have been used a bunch of times. But they have trucks that have beds that are specifically made for these. And they just grab a hold of it and winch it up on the truck and drop it anywhere in the country. That’s where we’re going to deliver it – part of our thing is that we’ll deliver it anywhere in the U.S. Because in my research, it looks like that could only cost like a couple of thousand dollars maximum.
So you are envisioning the final structure as a cabin, basically?
Yeah. The cabin style is what we want.
And are you thinking, one bedroom, one bath?
Yeah, it’ll be a 20-footer, so, you know, half the length of the ones that go by on the train. Or, you know, you’ve seen the shorter ones. We’re trying to get a taller version. So the interior would be like nine-foot ceilings instead of eight. Because you lose a lot of space, you know, once you frame the inside and you put something on the floor and you put something on the ceiling. And then for the plumbing, it’s got to go on floor level. So what you do is you build a little platform where you step up into the bathroom because the plumbing can’t go underneath the unit, it’s got to go – like in a motor home or something – right out the wall. So it’s got to be above the floor level.
We’re going to lose some ceiling height there. So we want to see if we can get one that has like the nine-foot interior.
Another idea that I had for the use of the thing would be like this: if you won it, you would have, let’s say, sort of a little mini guest house or you could have a backyard studio. You could have an office building, for a home business or another business. Or if you have a piece of property where you could drop it, you could use it as a cabin. It’s pretty flexible in what it can be used for.
So it’s not just for people that are living in the country who have land. It could be anybody.
Yeah, you could put this thing in just about anybody’s backyard. It’s not very big and you can instantly have that capacity.
For people who aren’t familiar with St. Teresa School, especially those from outside the diocese, why is this being done as a fundraiser for them?
Right, so, just because of the economic situation, what happens is that our tuition, in order to keep it affordable enough for people to actually go here – we had the same problem at Sacred Heart School in Gallup, right? Tuition doesn’t cover the cost of running the school. The cost of everything has increased so much that it’s pricing people out of being able to go to a Catholic school.
We have to keep giving our teachers a decent living wage. And so in order to keep the cost of going to the school affordable – because we’re in a depressed area – we’re trying to find ways to supplement the cost of running the school so that we don’t have to keep hiking tuition. So this is a way to supplement the cost of running the school so that we don’t have to hike tuition beyond the reach of our Catholic families.
Did you have anything else you wanted to mention?
We’re trying to keep that same kind of formula [as V8s for Vocations] – 25 bucks [per ticket], and we’ll ship it anywhere in the lower 48 states.
I think it’s going to stir up community participation in the same way that V8s did initially. It’s not just our fundraiser, it’s also a community project because the school is important to our community.
Are you hoping to get people who want to come out and help work on it? Can people come volunteer?
Yeah, because there’s a lot of things that we’ll be able to do that way. Not everything – I mean, a random guy can’t do the wiring – but you know, a random guy can come and help paint. We’ve had offers from local businesses and craftsmen to participate and we’re happy to have more.
The raffle for the finished cabin will take place on May 27, 2024.To purchase tickets for the raffle, click here.
To get involved with the project, call St. Teresa School at 505-287-2261.