Celebrating 50 Years of Service & Changing Lives: 1971–2021
Updated: Apr 12
In the early 1970s, following the construction and opening of Walt Disney World, the city of Orlando experienced a boom in population and consequently poverty, as those in need who'd migrated from elsewhere came hoping for a fresh start. Witnessing an influx of impoverished and desperate residents at their doorsteps, a group churches realized the best way to help would be establishing a centralized location where people with qualified skills could provide immediate assistance to the growing number of neighbors in crisis that the churches at the time lacked the resources to do on their own.
In response, our nonprofit ministry was founded by the Orange County Association of Churches that included five Downtown Orlando churches—First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, First United Methodist Church of Orlando, Cathedral Church of St. Luke, St. James Cathedral and Trinity Lutheran Church.
Over the past 50 years, we have served this community by providing millions of free lunchtime meals, countless articles of clothing, providing financial assistance with utilities and rent, as well as transportation and crisis counseling. We continue to fulfill the mission set forth before us and improve the availability of life-changing services to the less fortunate.
Since we began, we’ve opened two more locations, one in West Orange (1981) and one in Winer Park (2000), all to better serve a population that has been neglected—those on the streets without a home. Over the decades, several other social service initiatives and programs have incubated, thrived, and found secure footing on the campus of the Christian Service Center to branch out including: Share the Care, Meals on Wheels, and Habitat for Humanity. In 1986, we established a restorative program for men, called The Fresh Start program. Fresh Start provided shelter for men up to one year. We provided mentoring, job search tools, savings accounts, permanent housing and so much more. In the last decade, we launched a program called The Love Pantry, an in-school emergency food cabinet program in public schools to remove childhood hunger as a barrier to education, while also providing resources to struggling families.
Beginning this decade coming through an historic pandemic, a new chapter has begun for us. Our core concern is still for the well-being of the homeless and poor of our community. Yet, we move confidently towards the future with great expectation. Our mission remains the same. Our future will always be connected to our history. In service, we seek to answer the question, what is our ultimate purpose here in Central Florida? We trust in God’s guidance and timing in the work we are called to do. In the next few years, with His guidance, we may very well effectively end homelessness by providing permanent housing, empowering residents to become self-sufficient, and restoring those lost to their family members.
Join us all year as we celebrate and honor the tireless work of those who’ve come before us. We’ll be sharing stories old and new, and we invite you to do the same. The work we do together now will one day be read by future generations as our history. Thank you for serving alongside us.
Look for more reflections on our past programs and accomplishments on our social media and blog posts leading up to our official anniversary on June 1st.