Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
When Dave Donaldson co-founded CityServe – a network of churches and community service organizations dedicated to helping the needy and transforming broken communities – he envisioned partnering with a university that shared his vision.
That wish came to fruition Thursday when Grand Canyon University became CityServe’s first university partner, officially opening the doors to a 35,000-square-foot warehouse (view a slideshow here). The event featured a performance by the Thundering Heard Pep Band alongside Cheer, Dance and mascot Thunder plus a tour of the facility and addresses by GCU President Brian Mueller and other dignitaries.
The warehouse will serve as CityServe’s distribution HUB for Arizona. It's where in-kind goods – everything from furniture to small appliances from Costco, Amazon, Home Depot and other retailers – will be distributed to families in need.
“It is a dream come true to have CityServe not only on a university campus but on what I believe is the finest university in the world led by the finest president,” Donaldson said at the open house for the GCU CityServe HUB, a bustling space in Building 66 at the University’s 27th Avenue business complex.
The opening of the facility is a major initiative for the University that marks the culmination of months of talks with CityServe. GCU first partnered with the organization in December, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when GCU became a CityServe distribution site for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
By the time Farmers to Families ended in May, GCU had disbursed almost 20,000 boxes of food (some 17 Shamrock truckloads) to 42 schools, churches and community groups that, in turn, distributed the food to those in need.
Farmers to Families would turn out to be a jumping off point for bigger things to come.
As soon as Farmers to Families wrapped up, GCU CityServe ramped up at a dizzying pace. Over three months this summer, the University converted 35,000 square feet of space in Building 66 into a distribution warehouse.
“We were operating out of a fitness center 90 days ago,” said former Phoenix Rescue Mission President/CEO Jay Cory, the new GCU CityServe Executive Director. “So we’ve transformed a fitness center into a warehouse, now a distribution center.”
And the pace hasn’t slowed one bit.
Since August, GCU’s CityServe HUB has received nine truckloads of goods – most of them returned items that otherwise would end up in landfills. That’s about $454,000 in retail value worth of merchandise.
“We’re already making distributions,” said Cory. “Items are already beginning to land in the homes of families in need.”
It’s a promising beginning for Donaldson’s dream of a university CityServe site. He sees youth as championing the nonprofit’s mission to transform communities.
“The youth, they’re not only our future but, in many ways, our role model for compassionate evangelism,” Donaldson said.
He told the open house crowd that when he was asked, “Why students?” he answered, “Students have so much passion and energy,” then addressed GCU’s students directly: “We’re going to equip you. We’re going to mobilize you. You’re going to make a HUGE difference right here in this region. Then you’re going to go back to your own church and you’re going to awaken them to revival in their own communities.”
Mueller also looked to students to be the catalyst for change in the community.
“My biggest hope with all of this is that you guys are going to do church a lot better than we did church,” he said.
He told the open house crowd about how GCU’s growth in west Phoenix is not an accident. God put the University here, “and He blessed us incredibly.”
Mueller spoke of the swimming pools, the beautiful classrooms, the labs – and the TWO Chick-fil-A’s.
“We’ve got so much food on this campus,” Mueller said, and yet, “… we’ve got people right outside the gates that are hungry.”
And that’s something that shouldn’t be.
“God created a universe that could easily cause human flourishing for 7 billion people,” so what’s the problem?
“The problem is not the government. The problem is the church is not being the church. We’ve got to be moved emotionally to the point that we care as deeply about those people that are in need as Jesus cared about us enough to suffer and die for us – that’s the extent that we need to care about these people.”
Mueller said that God expects GCU to restore this neighborhood in response to His blessings on us.
“We’re working on it,” he said, through the University’s five-point plan to uplift and revitalize the community, and now through GCU CityServe.
Barry Meguiar, President of Meguiar Wax, has been a big CityServe supporter and also was excited about the organization’s partnership with GCU.
“To be able to do it on a college campus so you can mentor college kids on getting into this mindset, this worldview of helping the less fortunate? It’s fantastic. Praise God,” he said.
The big-personality Meguiar – he’s the former host of Discovery’s Velocity series “Car Crazy” – spoke about how CityServe goes beyond taking care of people’s basic needs. It looks to their spiritual well-being.
“The masses, they’re not evil. They’re lost,” he said, and helping them find their way will take going beyond the walls of the church, since fewer than 20% of Americans go to church.
It will take something like the new model CityServe is offering.
“Jesus said they’ll know you’re My disciple by your love, and boy does CityServe do that in spades,” said Meguiar, who pumped up the crowd with his enthusiasm.
The octogenarian told the crowd, “You know when you’re on that last lap and that second wind comes. … It kicks in, you don’t even know where it comes from and all of a sudden you’re just flying. Man, you’re just going. That’s where we are right now.”
Where GCU CityServe is right now, after officially opening its warehouse, is building its cache of partners. The University wants to partner with 100 likeminded PODs that have a heart for transformational ministry and helping families in need. PODs are churches, schools and community service groups that will identify families in need and will make sure to deliver the in-kind items GCU is receiving to those families.
“How do you become a POD? You have to have the desire. You have to have the want-to. You have to have the ability to come pick up stuff from the HUB,” Cory said. “Do you have to have a huge warehouse? … I would say if you have a good heart and if you have a bicycle with a basket on it … you can start, right?”
Several potential POD partners attended the open house and were invited to sign up.
“We work with our social workers and they let us know about the needs that they (families in need) have,” said Andrea Worth of Calgary Phoenix, which partners to help the Washington Elementary School District. “We try to come alongside that. It seems like a natural win-win of being able to identify those families and support them through GCU.”
The University also is building its volunteer base for the warehouse, which eventually will expand to 100,000 square feet of space.
“Students always show up, and they always show out,” said Darion Padilla, President of the Associated Students of GCU.
“Students are going to show up in droves. … They’re going to be volunteering in every way possible,” said ASGCU Vice President Ben Claypool.
And GCU CityServe leaders already are looking at what’s next, beyond distributing household goods to the community. For CityServe, that’s just another jumping off point.
The goal is to transform lives.
Mueller spoke about the next phase for the partnership, which is for GCU’s colleges to reach out to “provide long term, sustainable solutions” for families. There’s talk of possibly opening a health clinic staffed by GCU nursing students, offering mental health services using juniors and seniors in the counseling program, or supporting immigrant enterprises with the help of GCU business students.
And that will be another dream come true.
“It’s not about us,” Cory said. “It’s about service. A life is a life of ministry. We’re setting an example of serving the community in all the things that we do. … It’s the Christian values that we embody actually translated into footprints and actual actions.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
View it here
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