CityServe impacts 5,000 families in 1st year

GCU CityServe HUB Manager Nathan Cooper continues to be contacted daily by groups curious about the initiative. (Photos by Ralph Freso)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an expanded version of a story printed in the August issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here.

Sonya Harper is on a far-from-typical shopping spree.

Instead of picking up a few things for herself, she’s on a more meaningful mission, gathering Lysol wipes, floor cleaner and slippers for a mother transitioning out of a domestic violence shelter and into a place of her own.

“She has nothing. Any kind of household items would be helpful to her,” said Harper, the Director of Mission Services for Phoenix’s Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church.

She also was gathering household goods for retirement home residents, and the first place that came to mind was the Grand Canyon University CityServe warehouse.

Sonya Harper, Director of Mission Services for Phoenix's Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, stopped by the recently expanded GCU CityServe warehouse earlier this summer .

“It’s all word of mouth right now,” GCU CityServe warehouse Manager Nathan Cooper said of the buzz the initiative has generated. “We’ve grown organically since the start. I get calls every day from an organization we haven’t partnered with yet that’s curious about what we’re doing.”

GCU CityServe, the University’s most ambitious endeavor yet in its mission to serve those in need, will mark its first year of operation in September.

Through the end of June, CityServe’s sole distribution site in Arizona has disbursed more than $2 million of donated household goods to the community through its partnerships with more than 75 churches and faith-based nonprofits.

“That’s a huge accomplishment, but we are just getting started,” Cooper said.

It was just before the pandemic when, at an event, GCU Assistant Vice President of Academic Alliances Greg Harman sat next to Dave Donaldson, co-founder of CityServe International. Donaldson shared with Harman that CityServe, a network of churches and faith-based nonprofits serving the underserved, wanted to partner with a like-minded university that sought to live out the Gospel and overcome brokenness in the community.

CityServe found that partner in GCU.

We've grown organically since the start. I get calls every day from an organization we haven't partnered with yet that's curious about what we're doing.

Nathan Cooper, GCU CityServe HUB Manager

Over just three months in the summer of 2021, the University converted space in the Canyon Ventures building at the 27th Avenue business complex into a 35,000-foot capacity warehouse. It’s the home base for those items — everything from furniture to small appliances and outdoor equipment — donated by major national retailers, such as Costco, Amazon and Walmart.

The University expanded the warehouse just six months later, more than doubling its capacity.

“We can hold more of an inventory, which means we’re able to meet more specific needs,” Cooper said.

The GCU CityServe team has helped its community point-of-distribution partners, or PODs, furnish entire apartments and has come alongside Habitat for Humanity during its home-renovation projects to fulfill homeowners’ other needs by delivering microwaves, bedding, refrigerators and the like.

“We also have clothing now, too, which is new,” Cooper said of the 15,000 pieces of clothing it recently received.

Cooper (center left) and his CityServe team of Paige McMahon, Ashley Hunter and Steve Irving recently received a donation of Lectric eBikes.

One need that became apparent to the GCU CityServe team over the past year is transportation, a need the team is meeting with a commitment to donate $100,000 of Lectric eBikes.

“So now it’s another mission of ours,” he said.

The recipient that Cooper said has been close to his heart is the Vietnam veteran who had been in and out of prison and living on the street.

“He was able to secure housing through one of our POD partners. We actually had them come down, and we were able to pick out furniture for him and make it feel like a home,” he said.

Another memorable donation from the past year was tailoring mannequins. The team never thought it would find a home for them, but then a Welcome to America Project representative asked if GCU CityServe had any sewing machines for an Afghan refugee mother and daughter who sewed clothing to support the family.

“I go, ‘Unfortunately, we don’t have any sewing machines, but we have these two tailoring mannequins. Could they use this?’ They said, ‘Yeah, of course!’

“Since then, we provided them with a bunch of sewing machines we got in.”

More than 5,000 families have been impacted by the $2 million-plus of donated goods provided by GCU CityServe in its first year.

And that’s just the first step in realizing President Brian Mueller’s vision of bringing about long-term, sustainable, transformational change to the community.

POD Relations Manager Paige McMahon helps GCU CityServe partners from Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church load household items going to retirement home residents and to a woman transitioning out of a domestic violence shelter.

The next phase is to help families beyond household items. The University’s nine colleges have spoken of building a community clinic and providing counseling, mentorship services and business advice.

GCU CityServe will head into its second year expanding its reach as the team continues to sign up POD partners, having done just that with church and faith-based organizations as far away as Flagstaff and Globe, Arizona.

“Every time they pick up something from here, they’re going in and impacting somebody’s life, not only with the physical item but the spiritual need,” said Cooper.

He expects to reach Mueller’s goal of signing up 100 community partners in the next month or so.

“I’m not going to stop until we get to Sierra Vista, Yuma, Gila Bend — all the way up north,” Cooper said, resolutely. “There’s need everywhere.”

And GCU CityServe aims to fill it.

Related stories:

GCU CityServe video: GCU's CityServe Answers the Needs of the Community

GCU CityServe video: What is GCU CityServe?

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