The History of OUR Center
OUR Center, founded in 1986, grew out of the Longmont Ministerial Association. Church leaders realized that those in need were turning to the churches for help that they were not always able to provide. The churches agreed that uniting community resources would give better help to those who needed it, and also give the churches a consistent place to refer folks. Out of this realization grew the OUTREACH UNITED RESOURCE CENTER, INC. or OUR Center.
OUR Center is truly a community-based agency. While most of the churches in the St. Vrain Valley support OUR Center, it is not affiliated with any one church, or any other agency. OUR Center works closely with many other agencies in the community to assist those in need, especially those in emergency situations.
From humble beginnings…a brief history of the Outreach United Resource Center
In late 1986, two seemingly catastrophic events took place in Longmont that would change the community, especially the community of the ones in need, forever. First, the Salvation Army Center was forced to close its doors after losing 1000 pounds of “USDA” foods (food provided by the government.) Then, the Samaritan House, which had been in operation for 17 years providing food and clothing to those in need, and run by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, found itself overwhelmed with no money and too many requests. In short, the Samaritan House could no longer afford to stay open!
With this as a backdrop, Central Presbyterian minister Alan Landes organized a series of public meetings to talk about the need for improved welfare agencies in the city. Landes teamed up with approximately 25 other churches in Longmont to coordinate efforts to reach the city’s needy in an effective, efficient manner. As a result of this effort, what was to become known as the OUR Center formed a partnership with Emergency Family Assistance to provide for the city’s needy. To get this program off the ground, former Longmont mayor Larry Burkhardt was hired on a two month contract to get the OUR Center off the ground.
By March of 1987, the Samaritan House officially became the OUR Center Hospitality Center. In less than four months, more than 7,000 individuals and 2,000 households were served by the OUR Center. In June of 1987 the OUR Center’s main offices were relocated to 414 Fourth Ave., where caseworkers were available to counsel those needing food, clothing or furniture. In addition to food, clothing and furniture, caseworkers were called upon to help with utility bills, rent, medical and transportation needs. Plans were also initiated to develop a day care center for children of working parents. And by September of the same year, the Hospitality Center was serving hot lunches to anyone wishing a meal, free of charge, attendance unconditional.
The following is an excerpt from the OUR Center Board meeting minutes, dated March 1987:
“Somehow, I ended up with an envelope filled with pennies and nickels. It was a donation from a school aged child who wanted to help a family at Easter. When I gave this to Alan at our executive committee meeting, we all chuckled about the gift. I think the laughter was responding to the feelings we all have that we are pursuing something good and that in a small but very significant manner, the work of OUR Center was being validated in a way that only 63 cents from a youngster could do. The 63 cents will help us to feed a family. It also demonstrates the opportunity before us to help build a community of people who deeply and honestly care about the well-being of their neighbors. And, if we can work with the kids in our community today, to build the caring capacities reflected in the gift, we will somehow all end up in a better community and perhaps a better world.”
In 2016, OUR Center served 129,711 meals in the Hospitality Center, distributed 755,556 pounds of emergency groceries to 14,295 households. Obviously, the commitment to strive for a better community continues today. Providing compassionate support for the city’s needy population, whether it is the homeless, working poor, aging or despondent, this organization will continue to be the beacon it was envisioned to be many years ago…Indeed, because of the OUR Center, this community is a lot better. The job continues!
Thanks to John Maher, volunteer of more than 17 years, for providing this historical narrative.
What’s in a name?
One of the individuals who helped with initial planning was Margo Tiller of Spirit of Peace Catholic Community. The night before one of the meetings, she had a dream in which she saw St. John the Baptist Catholic Church’s Samaritan House, already designated to be the Hospitality Center and food bank for the cooperative venture. Above its door was a sign reading “OUR Center”. The next day, she happily reported to the group, “I’ve got the name for us!”. Eric Doering then suggested having OUR stand for “Outreach United Resource” would give the name more significance and the full name was adopted.