GCU CityServe nears $750,000 of distributed goods

More than 1,100 volunteers donated their time at the GCU CityServe warehouse in 2021, including more than 360 GCU volunteers from 25 campus groups. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Nathan Cooper, the GCU CityServe HUB manager (right), said GCU CityServe is nearing $750,000 of goods distributed to families in need since it opened in the fall. (Photo by Mathew McGraw)

Nathan Cooper can share inspiring story after inspiring story.

There’s the one about the single mother of two children, 8 years old and 8 months old, who recently were evicted by her father and left home with nothing. Grand Canyon University CityServe and one of its community partners knew they needed help and brought them a sofa, two beds, a dresser, a pack-and-play, pots and pans, an air fryer and a slew of other household goods.

“We were able to furnish their whole apartment … everything they needed,” said Cooper, GCU CityServe HUB Manager.

GCU CityServe also supplied a single mother of two boys with a sofa, two Tuft & Needle mattresses, a dresser and toys.

And it gave a Vietnam veteran in his mid-70s a fresh start after he had shuttled in and out of prison, experienced homelessness and went through recovery.

An expansion will double the size of the warehouse. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“He was finally getting his first-ever apartment, and we were able to actually walk with him and find items for his home,” Cooper said.

There was the man named Ray, who has been homeless for most of his life, spending the last three years living on the streets in Phoenix. GCU CityServe supplied him with a bed.

The community partner who worked with Ray wrote, “After being sober for two years, he received a housing voucher, and we were able to move him into his house. He cried and danced when we moved his new bed in, and as we were leaving, we could hear him yell out, ‘I don’t have to sleep on the floor no more!’”

Ray is working on his resume so he can start applying for jobs.

When Catholic Charities and other community partners needed toys for families during the Christmas season, GCU CityServe responded with almost 1,000 toys. (Contributed photo)

And then there’s the recent Christmas season haul of generosity.

Community partner Catholic Charities didn’t have enough toys to give through its Emergency Santa Program, which provides toys for families who cannot afford them. Children receive the toys in exchange for their parents’ volunteer hours.

“Thanks to CityServe, we were able to provide gifts for more than 300 kids and teens this Christmas,” wrote Catholic Charities.

Toys from the warehouse made their way to other children, too.

“One of our PODs, they actually did a toy drive. We provided them with a LOT of toys. Most of those went to foster kids. … I think we neared 1,000 toys around Christmas through our PODs.

“It’s just story after story like that,” Cooper said of GCU CityServe, a major University initiative in which it receives in-kind goods from national retailers, such as Costco and Home Depot, at its HUB, or warehouse site, and delivers those goods to those in need through its partnerships with community PODs, or Points of Distribution. 

From August to the end of January, the warehouse received an estimated $1.5 million worth of goods. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

From August, when the enterprise first started receiving those in-kind items, to the end of January, 24 truckloads of goods valued at $1.5 million have been delivered to the warehouse at the University’s 27th Avenue business complex. The enterprise, in turn, is nearing almost $750,000 of goods distributed to the community, Cooper said, everything from mattresses to furniture, kitchenware and bicycles, to name a few, with an estimated 2,500 families impacted.

In just a little more than five months, Cooper and the rest of the four-member GCU CityServe team has expanded its outreach to include 60 PODs.

That number is quickly approaching the University’s vision of partnering with 100 PODs across the state as GCU’s operation serves as the warehouse distribution point for these items in Arizona.

The University’s partner PODs extend as far as Prescott, “but we are having conversations with Flagstaff and Tucson organizations,” Cooper said.

GCU CityServe also is in the midst of a warehouse expansion in Building 66, moving into spaces once occupied by the Cyber Center of Excellence and Canyon Ventures. The expansion will more than double the warehouse size to make room for even more goods.

CityServe advisor Barry Meguiar (right) hosted a fundraiser recently at his home that raised more than $300,000 for GCU CityServe. (Photo by Mathew McGraw)

That kind of growth is something that could not happen without events such as the recent A Night in Support of CityServe at the home of CityServe advisor Barry Meguiar, President of Meguiar's Car Wax, and his wife, Karen. They hosted the event along with sports executive Jerry Colangelo and his wife, Joan; real estate developer Mike Ingram and his wife, Sheila; and GCU.

Donors sponsored 100 truck deliveries for $3,000 each to cover transportation costs. The more than $300,000 raised at the event will allow GCU CityServe to continue to serve those in need.

“Because of the business model that President (Brian) Mueller created and implemented, we are able to direct our fundraising efforts, in part, to helping individuals who would otherwise not have a connection to GCU,” said Dr. Kale Gober, GCU's Vice President for Advancement. “I have never heard of a university raising money for such an outward-facing initiative before.

Sports executive Jerry Colangelo (right) also hosted the A Night in Support of CityServe fundraiser along with real estate developer Mike Ingram and GCU. (Photo by Mathew McGraw)

“But it is a direct reflection of the leadership and culture of service we get to enjoy at Grand Canyon. For me, it’s a feeling of exponential gratitude because the more families who are blessed, the more support we can raise, and the more support we raise, the more families we can bless in the name of Jesus.”

Beyond the financial support, the GCU community – its students, staff and faculty – volunteers at CityServe almost every day to bless those families. In 2021, more than 1,100 volunteers gave their time, including more than 360 GCU volunteers from 25 campus groups.

“We have multiple volunteer groups coming in, different athletic groups are coming over to volunteer. We have the bowling team, the beach volleyball team coming in,” Cooper said of recent volunteer groups.

GCU CityServe also works with different University departments, such as Global Outreach, to help those departments in their ministries.

Cooper said, “We’ve actually been able to help quite a few families through those ministries, families who have either been displaced by wars and other situations like that and had to come to the United States.”

Freshman Elle Anderson wipes excess stain from a headboard during the CityServe and Sleep in Heavenly Peace bed building event in December. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

GCU CityServe also recruited student volunteers from the Honors College to help build bunk beds for nonprofit organization Sleep in Heavenly Peace – enough beds to give 70 children a place to sleep.

Next up: The GCU CityServe team is once again joining with Lopes Go Local (formerly called Serve the City) on Feb. 26, when hundreds of students will span out across nearby neighborhoods to work on simultaneous home improvement projects with community partner Habitat for Humanity.

Cooper said, “We’re going to come alongside them and provide home goods to the families they’re helping.”

And when it’s all said and done, he’ll have even more inspiring stories to share.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

GCU Today: CityServe officially opens distribution center

GCU Today: GCU CityServe wraps arms around those in need

GCU Today: Honors students give back by building bunk beds


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