Mission Outreach does curbside pickups
Mission Community Outreach Center marked its 25th year by finding new ways to serve the Spokane community with online orders and curbside pickups to meet COVID protocols and protect clients and volunteers.
On May 14, it held an outside anniversary party, honoring two of the four men who founded it in 1996 and their wives who were volunteers, Walt and Barbara Shields and Duane and Marnene Arkills. The other founders from the former Mission Ave. Community Presbyterian Church nearby were the late Ray Border and the late Irwin Winship, former pastor.
The church envisioned a community center for low-income people living in the Mission Ave. area and found a location at 1906 E. Mission Ave. The founders considered options and chose to focus on clothing for families of school children. They did tutoring for a while.
"We decided to do what was effective and efficient, so we eventually focused on clothing, hygiene and baby care items, but have had limited kitchen items, small housewares, bedding and towels. We provide all items free to those in need," said Ali Norris, executive director, in an interview with Bob Fisher, board chair.
Bob added they have served families transitioning from homelessness, immigrant families and low-income families in the community.
"We have no qualifications for households to meet," Ali said. "We started with a focus on this neighborhood, but over time, realizing we had enough items, we just wanted to give them to people in need, so we opened the services to anyone in need.
"We are barrier free to provide an easy, comfortable shopping experience for customers," she said.
Ali began in an administrative role at Mission Community Outreach Center in December 2017 and became executive director the following October.
A graduate of University High School, she completed undergraduate studies in political science and international studies at the University of Idaho in 2013, followed by a one-year internship in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., and a year in AmeriCorps with Cheney Parks and Recreation. She completed a master's degree in public health in 2017 at Eastern Washington University.
Working at Mission Community Outreach Center, she finds that what she does benefits the community's public health, instead of viewing public health as medical issues only.
"Good clothing, shoes and hygiene items play into a family's health," Ali said.
"Providing essentials gives a family hope, allowing them to take a deep breath and take off a bit of stress while they continue to look for work, education and housing," Ali said.
Bob met founder Walt after hearing him on Christian radio in 1999. Appreciating the center's work, Bob and his wife Connie started supporting it. He volunteered and came on the board in 2005. Connie continues to volunteer weekly.
"I see it as an expression of my Christian faith based on our being called by the Gospel to do this kind of work," said Bob, who was a financial planner for 35 years with Thrivent, a Christian based financial organization.
A 1973 graduate of the University of Idaho in business, he grew up in Southwest Idaho and moved to Spokane in 1974 where he met Connie.
They attend Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, where Bob recruited member Mark Kinney to serve on the board in 2008 and then to be executive director from July 2011 to October 2014.
Mission Community Outreach Center has been run mostly by volunteers. Walt was volunteer executive director.
Now, however, Ali is paid as full time executive director.
Bob said the center is an extension of the ministry of many Spokane area churches collaborating on "doing what Christians are called to do."
Some support it financially. Some provide volunteers. Some collect clothes, shoes and other items.
Currently the supporting churches include Mary Queen and St. Aloysius Catholic parishes; St. Luke, St. John's, Hope, Beautiful Savior, Redeemer and Holy Cross Lutheran churches; Millwood, Hamblin Park and First Presbyterian churches; Spokane Valley United Methodist and North Hill Christian churches.
For example, St. Aloysius Catholic Parish and others recruit volunteers to help with the back-to-school shoe event. Millwood Presbyterian does a toilet paper drive providing up to 30 cases a year.
Along with churches, some agencies, service clubs and businesses like Kiwanis, Rotary, J.C. Penney's, Liberty Mutual and Thrivent provide items, grants and volunteers, said Ali.
"Last year, COVID changed the way we operate," she said. "We launched an order form for online shopping. Volunteers come in weekly and fill the orders. People come by to pick up the orders outside."
Those who had no access to a computer could order by phone, and a few come to the door.
The center also has referrals from homeless shelter case managers who made orders for clients.
"We have also given clothing, hygiene and baby items to 14 nonprofits this last year," Ali said.
Bob added that they have also had referrals from the Red Cross and agencies serving domestic violence victims.
"A broad array of people come—families stretched financially or burned out as families in Malden, people experiencing difficult situations, physical and mental health struggles or unemployment," Bob said.
"One of my favorite parts of the work is serving everyone and making them feel welcome," Ali said, telling of upgrades to improve the atmosphere so people feel they are shopping in a store and can pick out what they want. "It's important for people to feel they are shopping, not coming to get free stuff."
Volunteers keep the place clean and organized.
The center has not been as busy with online orders as it would be in person, she said. It has served more people in need through agencies this year. We are looking forward to serving our clients in person again soon."
For information, call 536-1084, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.4mission.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,June, 2021