Transformed McKinley Outreach Center in Willoughby serving hundreds each month
By Elizabeth Lundblad, The News-Herald POSTED: 06/30/14, 3:16 PM EDT Organizers say they can hardly believe it has been a year since the doors opened at McKinley Community Outreach Center in Willoughby’s north end of town.
There isn’t an empty room in the former elementary school, which has its pros and cons.
“It’s both good and bad news because it shows people want to help, but also that the need was much greater than we realized,” said the Rev. Don Perks, senior pastor at Willoughby United Methodist Church. “It’s a been a really fast year. We’ve learned a lot, and exceeded our original expectations.”
Officially opened on June 29, 2013, the idea for the center came from Perks and the Rev. Mike Currier, pastor at Body of Christ Community Church in Willoughby, who thought the needs of the western Lake County community could be better served by churches and service groups pooling their resources.
Sue Penicka, coordinator for McKinley, said groups who want to have a dedicated space have to share with another ministry.
“We have so much and we are so blessed. It really is amazing,” she said. “We did get our 501(c)(3) classification. It came through in May.”
Located at 1200 Lost Nation Road, Penicka said in some ways it feels as though the year has flown by and in others it feels like the center has been there forever.
“We just had our first session of haircuts,” she said about the expanded offerings coming to McKinley. “Immaculate Conception is moving its food pantry. We’re really excited to have them join us.”
Adding the food pantry is just another check mark in the achieved goals column. Both Perks and Penicka said it’s something the center organizers wanted to be able to provide since day one. “We aren’t handicap accessible and we thought we could help more people if we merged together,” said Diana Lipfird, pastoral associate at Immaculate Conception Parish in Willoughby. “I contacted Pastor Mike (Currier) and asked if we could work something out. I think it will be so much better for everyone involved. They’re handicap accessible and have volunteers that want to help. We’ll be able to serve more people.”
The food pantry is expected to open on July 7. Lipfird said staple foods — like peanut butter, jelly, flour, sugar and pancake mix — are always needed.
“Also, with being moved, we’re going to be able to give out cheese and milk,” she said. “We’re still going to have the Mother Teresa meals at Immaculate Conception. This partnership is what we want. It’s all the churches working together because we really are one.”
Since the addition of the pantry was announced, Penicka said she’s had people coming to McKinley every day asking for food. “Willow Praise Church in Willowick want to do a produce service distribution,” she added. “They’re hoping maybe in July and August once a month. They do one already at their location, but wanted to do one here, too. Hopefully that can happen by the end of July.”
Penicka said all the churches and groups she’s spoken to have not failed to step up.
“There’s just so many who want to help. It seems like every time I have a place to go, they’re definitely interested in supporting the center, either through donations or serving,” she added.
That support was definitely needed when McKinley added more distribution dates per month.
“Since the beginning we’ve gone from one distribution a month to doing three a month,” Perks said. “Partly it was to meet the demand and also to slow down the traffic. When everybody comes at one time, it can be overwhelming. More distributions make it less of a rushed day and it gives folks more flexibility for when they can come.”
Penicka said they added the third distribution at the beginning of 2014, and average 250 households a month. “We were definitely lower in the winter months, but we were over 300 households in May,” she said. “The last Saturday distribution is the most popular because that’s when resources are running out.”
Perks said the reality of McKinley differs somewhat from the vision the organizers first imagined.“Part of the whole learning process when you’re trying to minister to people is you may think you understand their needs, but until you allow them to share what their need is you don’t truly know,” he said. That’s how McKinley got its pet supplies room. “I never thought about that. Many people have pets that are their family and sometimes they have to make decisions, like paying for medication or buying pet food,” Perks said. “You don’t like for anybody to make those choices. You have to realizes that their pets are meaningful to them. That’s an area that has grown and been a wonderful surprise.” Penicka says McKinley receives calls about donating furniture, but a lot of the time people ask that the center pick it up. “It’s really hard to do that. Our people aren’t professional movers. We have been able to do some, but we can’t do them all. It is preferable if people can drop furniture off,” she said.
With the involvement of other ministries, Perks said the vision of total community involvement is coming true at McKinley. “I’d most definitely do it again,” he said. I think it’s be an exciting time. One of the exciting things for me is seeing some folks who have received help turn around and become servants. They are part of the whole process, givers as well as receivers. It’s nice to see that circle happen with people’s lives. God has been faithful in all things.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Liz is a wordsmith & Ohio University alumna who enjoys ice hockey, comedy & British TV. Reach the author at elundblad(at)news-herald.com or follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @NewsHLiz.