This Is How Utah’s Crossroads Urban Center Cares for the Poor

Crossroads

For 50 years, Crossroads Urban Center has fed, clothed, housed and advocated for the poor in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Crossroads began in 1966 when the United Methodist Women created an organization to provide for their low-income neighbors, people with disabilities and others facing obstacles to obtaining their daily needs. Today it operates an emergency food pantry, a thrift store and several advocacy initiatives for the poor.

Rachel Fischbein emergency services director of the center’s pantry, joined the team 15 years ago.  She says the need is great, but the dedicated staff is equal to the task.

“We heavily rely on volunteers and have few staff, so for me to do a job that gives me joy and get paid for it is really nice,” she said.

Each day, Crossroads’ emergency food pantry, the largest and busiest in Utah, provides boxes with three days worth of food to families in need of extra help between paychecks. Fischbein says on average 1,400 families pick up these boxes every month. They also give away holiday food boxes when the festive season comes around. In 2014, over 4,300 families feasted along with the rest of their communities. Thanks to their infant supply room, last year 2,430 babies received diapers or formula from their stocks.

In addition to food, the pantry provides all-day bus passes, non-narcotic prescription drug vouchers, glasses vouchers and gas vouchers.

Fischbein says the pantry exists to provide for people just starting new jobs and waiting for their first paycheck to buy food. Fifty percent of the lower-income people in the Salt Lake City area pay at least half of their salary in rent and are one paycheck away from being on the street. The pantry provides up to $100 toward helping paying the utilities or rent for those people with regular incomes who face eviction or having their utilities cut off because of illness or another emergency.

Crossroads also owns a thrift store where they provide cheap or free clothing to low-income individuals, families and the homeless. The organization sells home wares for people moving into new apartments, too. Crossroads’ Thrift Store depends entirely on the efforts of volunteers who sort and stock the clothes and items.

Katherine Ghiai, Crossroads’ bookkeeper, says the charity has grown over the years along with staff members’ awareness.

“We see a need, create projects that address that need and, if appropriate, allow those projects to become their own separate resource,” she said.

The charity has been entrepreneurial throughout its history, starting dozens of initiatives that have spun off to become their own entities. One of these, the Wasatch Community Gardens, sprouted from a group of volunteers who hoped to grow good, nutritious food for anyone in the community and to provide a space for people to learn how to grow food. What began as one garden has since blossomed to dozens around the city and even outside of the city limits.

In addition to providing for the physical needs of the poor, Crossroads launched several advocacy groups in recent years that work toward legislative and community change. They lobby the government and private sector for affordable housing and healthcare access for the homeless and impoverished. Part-time coordinators run each of their advocacy groups: the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, Coalition of Religious Communities and Community Housing Advocacy Project. Aside from the three coordinators, others on the advocacy teams are volunteers.

In fact, volunteers are the key to success for Crossroads. For all of the agency’s projects, the charity has only 12 employees.

“We could not survive without the volunteer force that stands up every day to care for the community,” Ghiai added.

Crossroads operates from private donations and volunteer hours, with only one small block grant from Salt Lake City to offset costs. Ghiai says this is intentional.

“We don’t take (much) government funding,” she said, “because it would inhibit what we do — and what we do is social justice.”

 

 

 

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