Peggy Garrett was “in between gigs” as a social worker in 1980 when she began working at what is now the Urban Mission. She thought the position of assistant director would be a nice “temporary thing.”
“I guess God had other plans because I’m still here 34 years later,” said Garrett, 59, of Harrah.
Back then, Garrett’s primary task was to develop an affordable after-school program for low-income families. With help from volunteers, SPARK (Support Program of Arts and Reading for Kids) was established. It continues and has served more than 2,000 children since its inception.
Today, Garrett is executive director at the Urban Mission, 3737 N Portland Ave. The years have rolled by swiftly, and the needs are pretty much the same, she said. Families continue to struggle to provide the basic needs such as food, clothing and school supplies for their kids.
In 1980, the food pantry was situated in a 4-by-6-foot closet. Today, the Food Resource Center covers more than 16,000 square feet.
The old pantry served five to 10 families weekly. Now, they assist 60 to 70 families in three hours.
“We have seen a 76 percent increase in the number of families served for July as compared to July 2013, so the need has increased dramatically,” Garrett said. “Stop by any day at noon and you will see a line of people waiting to receive help, eerily similar to pictures of the Great Depression.”
The Urban Mission also offers the Mission Marketplace, an upscale thrift store; the Kid’s Cafe, a program providing nutrition education and hot, nutritious meals to children in the SPARK program; a back-to-school program, providing school supplies to children of families in need; and the Santa Store.
The Santa Store is a partnership with local businesses and churches to provide gifts and food to families in need during the holidays. More than 500 children sign up to receive toys or other items.
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