A local non-profit organization that helps assist the homeless, near homeless and others in need in the Pottawatomie County area announced Tuesday they were awarded a $450,000 grant from the Affordable Housing Program.
Shawnee Rescue Mission received the grant to use for renovations at its new building at Ninth and Louisa streets.
The building was purchased through the combination of a $175,000 Sarkeys Foundation grant and a partnership created by the matching of those funds by Unity Health Center in August.
The grant was applied for in October and will be used for “renovations only, such as for a commercial kitchen, commercial bathrooms, a day center, new showers and an overnight shelter,” Melissa Blankenship, co-founder, said.
“But we will still need money to fill the project needs and for the weekly feedings and other expenses,” she said. “And it doesn’t cover our medical clinic. The grant exclusively covers construction; therefore, community and donor support is still critical to our program’s success.”
Glenn Blankenship, co-founder, said the mission will meet with officials from First United Bank, which will serve as the sponsoring bank for the grant in the next few weeks, to workout a timeline for when renovations will begin. In the meanwhile, the Blankenships and other SRM board members said they are “amazed” with the transformation made at the organization and the building throughout the past several months.
Kim Henry, Oklahoma first lady, SRM board member and Sarkeys Foundation executive director, said the organization also has been invited to look at additional grant opportunities for other needs. She said the award of the grant is very good news and that she is pleased with the work of SRM founders, volunteers and the community.
“This is amazing,” Henry said. “They have received over $1 million in less than a year and that’s just in cash donations.”
Chuck Skillings, Unity Health Center president and CEO and SRM board member, said the timing of the awards and growth of the organization and population of those it serves surprises him, as well.
“We moved in back in August, just four months ago, and we’re already feeding about 275 people a week,” he said. “We have relocated the homeless population away from the downtown business district. The anxiety the community had that this would create more homelessness or make it worse for businesses in the downtown area has been dispelled.”
Angie Phillips, SRM vice president, agreed the opening of the mission has helped move the homeless population away from the downtown business district.
“We worked very hard to listen to the community, to their concerns,” she said. “We took every opportunity we had to do what they requested of us and we believe we are doing what they told us they wanted to see happen.”
Melissa Blankenship, SRM co-founder, said the mission has experienced about a 95 percent increase in the number of people they feed during the free meal time they offer each Wednesday. She said “without contacting any churches yet,” each Friday, the mission sees more and more people come to the building for a box of food too.
“Now the line stretches down the hallway,” she said. “There is a tremendous need for help and they are coming to us just from word-of-mouth.”
Andy Lockhart, board member, agreed with Blankenship and said he believes if SRM opened a soup kitchen, the need is great enough in the area that “by tomorrow, we’d have 150 people or more lined up.”
Skillings said even he, as a board member, didn’t realize how much of an issue hunger is for people in the area or throughout the state until he visited the mission on a Wednesday. And he didn’t realize how many volunteers assist with the operations of the mission, he said.
“You need to see this place on a Wednesday,” he said. “A lot of the people I saw aren’t homeless, they just have no food. But with what’s in that storeroom in there, with the food in it, we could feed the whole community. And there are several volunteers to help distribute food and coordinate everything — all this in just four months.”
SRM board members said they were thankful to First United Bank for sponsoring the organization so they could receive the money awarded through the grant. Blankenship said she is “very thankful” to Unity for its support and partnership, as well and to the community for all of the donations of money, food and clothing they have given to the mission.