PARK CITY — Gloria Edwards’ hands are deep inside a brown cardboard box, sorting through clothes that have been brought to the loading dock behind the Christian Center of Park City on a warm, windy June day.
“Today I am here,” she said, her proper British accent providing aural evidence of her history as a teacher in London before she reached the age of retirement. “Tomorrow they may have me work in the thrift shop, and the next day in the food pantry. I go where the need is.”
That phrase — “I go where the need is” — could very well be the motto of the 13-year-old Christian Center, which was established in 2000 by Jim and Susan Swartz and founding director Tim Dahlin as a way to bring Park City’s interfaith community together to serve those in need in Summit and Wasatch Counties.
“We’re not a church, and I don’t conduct services here, although I am an ordained minister,” said Rob Harter, who has been the Christian Center’s executive director since 2010 when Dahlin retired. “But we do have two churches — Baptist and Presbyterian — who meet in our upstairs meeting room each Sunday.
“We have a Christian orientation, but we are completely interdenominational,” Harter continued. “We focus on what we agree upon rather than what separates us.”
And what Harter and Edwards and hundreds of others from a wide variety of faith backgrounds who work and volunteer at the Christian Center of Park City agree upon is this: There is humanitarian work to be done in Park City.
“People are always asking, ‘Seriously, who needs food in Park City?’” Harter said. “Well, it turns out there are always people up here and throughout Summit County and Wasatch County who do. And they need clothing. And they need counseling. And they need legal services. And we’re here to help them in any way we can.”
Last year, for example, more than 51,000 people used the food pantry associated with the Christian Center of Park City and its mobile food pantry, and more than $1 million worth of food was given to individuals and families in need. Thousands more received clothing through the CCPC's two thrift stores, while others received professional counseling by licensed professional counselors as part of what Harter calls an attempt to “go deeper” and “get to the root of people’s problems.”
And of course, Harter and his staff and volunteers are there to offer spiritual support to those in need.
“There is no religious requirement here — we don’t even ask about religion,” Harter said. “But if they request religious counseling or if they want us to pray with them, of course we are happy to do that. And if they belong to a particular religious denomination, we are a conduit to help them find the faith support they need.”
When the Christian Center was established 13 years ago, it was primarily a gathering place for international students who came to Park City to ski or work. (It still serves that purpose, Harter says, becoming a sort of mini-United Nations during certain times of the year.) When a few of the students mentioned that they needed a bed, or they needed ski equipment, center officials said, “Well, we can help you with that.”
“We became the ‘go-to’ place for international students, finding beds and equipment and anything else they needed,” Harter said. “Things just kind of exploded from there.”
Pretty soon the center was operating a full thrift store.
“We’re not as big as Deseret Industries, but that’s the concept,” Harter said. “We’re giving stuff a second chance, and we’re giving people some smokin’ hot deals.”
Because of the unique demographics of Park City and Deer Valley, CCPC gets more than its share of donations of higher-end clothing and household items, which it sells at a second thrift store called the Center Stage Boutique.
“The boutique is amazing,” said Mare Piper, a volunteer who says she has been serving at the boutique for “2-ish, 3-ish years — everything in Park City is –ish.”
“We have lots of name brands here: Louis Vuitton, Armani, Coach purses,” Piper said. When a guest indicated he had never heard of Coach purses, she fixed him with a playful glare and told him to go home and ask his wife about them. “She will roll her eyes at you,” she said, laughing.
Although the prices in the boutique are a little higher than in the thrift store, you can still get a like-new name-brand shirt for $8.
“We’ve had people find beautiful wedding dresses here,” Piper said. “We had one girl on a really tight budget come in looking for a prom dress and she found one that was so beautiful, when she tried it on and showed it to us we were all in tears. She was just so thrilled that she could get such a gorgeous dress for such an incredible price.”
The Christian Center’s food pantry, which partners with the Utah Food Bank, has also exploded as it has broadened its reach beyond Park City.
“We’re not a soup kitchen — we’re more of a grocery store,” Harter said. “In fact, we do ‘grocery rescue’ with a lot of local stores. They give us food, and we get it out to people.”
In addition to the food pantry associated with the Christian Center in Park City, the center operates a mobile food pantry that takes food to other locations in Summit and Wasatch Counties. They have recently established a satellite branch in Heber City, with both a food pantry and a thrift store to help meet the needs there.
“Our motto is, ‘Meeting people at their point of need as an expression of God’s love,’” Harter said. Or, like Edwards said, “We go where the need is.”
These days that is taking the Christian Center’s humanitarian ministry to Ibapah, in far western Tooele County, to serve members of the Goshute Tribe living there.
“We heard there were significant needs among the Goshutes, and it just felt like something we should do,” Harter said. So once a month they bring the CCPC mobile food pantry to Ibapah to provide food services as well as clothing. Last winter they included some 100 Goshute children among the 1,400 children served by their “Operation Hope” sub-for-Santa program. And now they are working with tribal leaders to establish a community garden in Ibapah.
“We’re trying to create a large, sustainable garden so they can have their own healthy, organic vegetables and fruit,” Harter said. “Not only will this provide them with better, healthier food, but we also hope it can eventually be a microenterprise for them so they can sell the food they don’t need for themselves.”
Much of the funding for CCPC’s Goshute outreach comes through a grant from American Express. As executive director of the center, Harter spends a lot of his time applying for grants from different agencies and foundations and working with individual donors and local churches who provide the center with the money it needs to do its work.
“We try to have a diversified set of income sources so we can maintain a healthy revenue stream that will allow us to continue to meet people’s needs,” Harter said. “Thankfully people, churches and organizations from throughout the community have been very generous with their money and their time.”
And needs are being met. Like the gentleman with the backpack and the tent who was just passing through on his way from Salt Lake City to Colorado and needed some food. Or the mother and her five daughters who were fleeing a polygamous sect and needed clothing other than the long, plain dresses they were wearing to better fit in to their new way of life. Or the Goshute children who receive a weekend’s worth of healthy snacks to help fill in the nutritional gaps when they are left to take care of themselves while their parents are working.
“We see a lot of need here,” said Marisol Sandoval of Kamas, who for six years has worked in the CCPC thrift shop. “I love feeling that every day we’re doing something to help people in need.”