We are here today in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City to talk to the man in charge of the top-rated charity in Utah.

But first, Glenn Bailey has a truck to unload.

A white pickup has just backed up to the rear of the Crossroads Urban Center loaded with several dozen boxes of donated food. Glenn joins a couple of staff members who have left their desks to pitch in. It’s like they’ve done this a thousand times. Except that estimate is almost assuredly on the low side.

“Crossroads is a low overhead place, as you can see. Everybody kind of helps everybody do everything,” says Glenn, suggesting that might help explain why Charity Navigator, a respected national organization in the business of assessing charities, has accorded Crossroads the top spot in its ratings of the state’s nonprofits, grading out with a 98.1 financial score and a perfect 100 for accountability and transparency.

A look around the 118-year-old house that serves as Crossroads’ headquarters seconds Glenn’s motion that this is a no-frills, no-airs, all-hands-on-deck kind of place. The ornate two-story building, a mansion in its time, was constructed in 1903. It started out as a private residence, but that changed when it was acquired by the Methodist Church in 1905.

For the first six decades of its existence it served as a sort of women’s dormitory, first for Methodist women missionaries, then for young Methodist women working or going to school in the city.

In 1966, the house transformed into the Crossroads Urban Center, dedicated to helping the poor, the needy, the disadvantaged, the down and out, the underprivileged.

The house, long since paid for, is still owned by the United Methodist Women, but over the years Crossroads has evolved into a self-contained nonprofit governed by a 24-person board of directors and supported by dozens of area churches, family foundations and other charity-minded organizations and individuals.

“We have donors who give anywhere from $10 to $50,000,” says Glenn. “Those $10 gifts don’t help the bottom line as much, but they mean a lot because you know that person is giving what they can give, and they trust you with it. It’s humbling to see how much people invest in Crossroads and how much confidence they have in our work.”

Erika Gee, Crossroads Urban Center food pantry assistant, stocks shelves at the center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The donations, along with thousands of hours of volunteer service each year, provide food, clothing, blankets, shoes, help with rent and utility payments, and many other services, including a free-of-charge landline phone in the front office. “It gets used a lot,” says Glenn. “Crossroads has become a true community center.”

That’s fitting for Glenn, since he is a true community organizer. Picture Barack Obama, but without the White House.

Born in 1960 (the same year as Obama), Glenn, a native of Michigan, first came to Utah and the Crossroads Urban Center in 1984, when he was offered a job over the phone.

He’d just completed a two-year service mission for the United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, which he signed on for after getting his bachelor’s degree in political science and public policy at Kalamazoo College. The work he did in Oklahoma, serving the underserved, had nothing to do with his major, but everything to do with what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

“I came to understand this is what I was meant to do. I decided I’d look to stay in some sort of helping profession, particularly regarding issues around poverty.”

Crossroads was 18 years old and Bailey just 24 when he drove his beat-up 1975 Ford LTD station wagon to a place he’d never seen and took a position on the staff. He’d risen to the position of deputy executive director when he left in 1988 for a job in Chicago as a community organizer on the southwest side. (He arrived the year Barack Obama left Chicago as a community organizer to go to Harvard Law).

Crossroads Urban Center is pictured in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In 1992 he returned to Crossroads when the executive director position opened and the board, remembering Bailey’s dedication and his skills, offered him the job. Remembering the mountains, the great outdoors and the city he’d grown to love, Glenn said yes.

In the 29 years since, he’s seen everything grow: the population, the needs, the homelessness.

“When I started as director we served the occasional homeless person but mostly we served families and kids, but over the years that has shifted. Usually more than half we feed each month from this facility are experiencing homelessness. That’s very different from 30 years ago.”

The giving has also increased, as has the entire Crossroads operation. In addition to the downtown location, another food pantry and a thrift store have been added on the west side.

The cause, though, remains the same.

“Try and make the world a better place,” Glenn says, summing it up. “Try to give people hope. I think that’s the critical thing people need — to be able to look forward to something.”

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Glenn has finished unloading the pickup. The staff members have retreated to their separate workstations. He looks around him. The neighborhood keeps changing. High-rise luxury apartments are on all sides of the 118-year-old house.

“We’re surrounded by apartments that nobody who comes here is ever going to live in” he muses.

But Crossroads Urban Center remains a downtown refuge, a no-questions-asked sanctuary, a place where you can use the phone for free.

For information on how to donate or volunteer this Christmastime, go to crossroadsurbancenter.org.

Glenn Bailey, executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center food pantry, talks about the work of feeding the needy in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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