Laying the Foundation

40 years ago, several congregations of different faiths in Downtown Raleigh gathered to discuss how they wanted to address unmet needs in the community: food, healthcare and shelter. Needs that still exist today. 

These churches formed what was then the Urban Ministry Center. A look at the meetings that took place the week on June 4th, 1981—a week before the organization open its doors— recalls how church leaders laid the foundation and why.  

On Thursday, June 4th, Sister Helen Wright, the Center’s first director met with Reverend Lewis of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. The church operated a soup kitchen at the time. Rev. Lewis also expressed concern about the fact that doctors were moving out of the inner city to set up joint facilities in the suburbs, creating a challenge—or even a crisis—for the impoverished without transportation. 

On Friday, June 5th, Sister Wright met with Reverend Daniel Sapp of Christ Episcopal Church. Christ Episcopal ran a food closet in conjunction with Wake County Social Services. They distributed food to the Battered Women’s Center and gave clients money to aid with rent costs and utilities.  

These diverse congregations of faith saw needs in their community and devoted themselves to enhancing the quality of life of those within it. Three years later, the Urban Ministry Center opened the Ark Shelter to offer emergency shelter for 25 homeless men. The next year, the Open Door Clinic was opened to offer free healthcare to those who could not afford or access health insurance. Over the years, the food pantry grew from serving 3,496 to tens of thousands.  

Throughout the years, what is now Urban Ministries of Wake County has remained dedicated to fulfilling its mission: to engage the community to serve and advocate on behalf of those affected by poverty by providing food and nutrition, promoting health and wellness, and by laying the foundations of home.