The Center of Hope first opened its doors in 1985 in a rented room next to a laundry mat in downtown Livingston to respond to the physical and spiritual needs of low-income families in Polk County. A significant reason for starting the mission was that several churches in the area had a food pantry but were unable to keep up with the demand. From March to August 1985, during their first few months of operation, the mission served 642 families.
In 1987, the Wayne Motel owners donated their office building and property to give the center a permanent home. In 2008, the building had become run down and was in much need of repairs. Through generous donations from Lowe’s and volunteers, the building was remodeled. But after another seven years, it was apparent that a new building was needed. This became essential for two reasons: the mission had outgrown the original building and the existing building was no longer safe to serve the community. That’s when the Lake Area Pastor’s Council began praying about the plight of many in Polk County.
During that time, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation conducted a survey on health, and Polk County was ranked second to last in Texas. The survey emphasizes factors such as smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, premature death and teen births. As a result of prayer and the survey, the Lake Area Pastor’s Council decided to come together and reach out to the needy in Polk County and not with a Band-Aid solution, but by helping residents break the cycle of hunger, poverty and hopelessness. The council voted to expand services to educate people about cause-and-effect and show them that through education, lifestyle changes, prayer and assistance, they could break the destructive cycles they were trapped in.
With the support of the community, the Center of Hope was able to purchase an 18,000 square-foot abandoned grocery store. After closing on the building in late September 2016, many volunteers stepped forward to help renovate the first 3,000 square feet to get it operational for serving the community. By Thanksgiving, the building was ready for occupancy and was used for food distribution.
Several changes have already begun to shine forth as a result. Instead of simply being handed food, clients come into our shopping area and pick out the foods they want and will use. They receive their groceries on a point system based on household size. In addition, there are now regularly scheduled classes focusing on nutrition, money management and building skills in Microsoft products, resume building and other areas. All volunteers now interact with the clients: greeting them as they come through the door; interviewing them to identify their needs (not just food); helping them shop for their food; and praying with them in the prayer room.
In addition, Campaign 300, a non-profit organization which empowers people in need through prayer, education, resources and emergency financial help, is located under the same roof. Habitat for Humanity has begun remodeling the remaining warehouse space and will occupy only about half the building, thus giving the Center of Hope an additional 6,000 square feet for future expansion needs.
While it might not seem like much, the 2017 Robert Wood Johnson survey shows that Polk County is now ranked 230 out of 243 counties. In the first four months of 2017, the center has served 2,925 people — up 30 percent over last year.
To see where your county ranks, go to countyhealthrankings.org. For more information on the Center of Hope, go to centerofhopepolk.org.
By: Rev. James Mayland, Trinity Lutheran Church, Livingston
(Rev. Mayland serves as president of the Center of Hope and Campaign 300.)