By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Moving at a snail’s pace is not part of the lexicon at Grand Canyon University. Jay Cory knows it firsthand.
The new executive director of GCU CityServe has been sprinting at an Olympic record-setting pace ever since his boots touched the ground at the University, where he’s bringing to fruition one of the most ambitious community efforts GCU has ever undertaken: transforming much of Building 66 on 27th Avenue into a warehouse that will serve as a distribution point for millions of dollars of merchandise for families in need.
“It is very fast,” Cory said of the pace of the warehouse conversion, counting the days in his head. “It’s my eighth week. Last week we cut out the overhead door and poured the ramp. We tore down the lockers in the locker room, so we’ve been doing a lot of hard-hat work.”
This month, he and his team are building out the distribution site, or HUB, stocking the warehouse, refining the system for offloading trucks, coming up with proper warehouse sorting procedures, and training and practicing for the site’s official launch in September.
The HUB already received its first deliveries last week, with volunteers unloading merchandise — primarily from Costco — from three 48-foot semitruck trailers, everything from furniture to camping gear, facial cream, microwaves, mini refrigerators and home décor that GCU volunteers stacked on racks built to accommodate items three pallets high. The warehouse even received kayaks to go to a church camp ministry or something similar.
“This is brand new stuff — this is not secondhand,” said Cory, whose CityServe team includes HUB Manager/Canyon Urban Farms Manager Nathan Cooper and student worker Steven Irving. “Hygiene supplies for men, hygiene supplies for women. We’ve got four or five pallets of hand sanitizer, some children’s toys. Frankly, anything that would go in a home, we’ve got it, plus anything that a home would need to go camping with, we have it.”
The warehouse space spans about 10,000 square feet so far, Cory said, though plans are to go even bigger.
GCU President Brian Mueller said at a press conference in May to announce the GCU-CityServe venture, “When I brought Dave (Donaldson, Co-founder and Chairman of CityServe) to look at our (proposed) 35,000-square-foot warehouse, he said, ‘That’s not NEARLY big enough. These trucks are going to be coming from all over the country.’”
And GCU is aiming to be more than big enough to try to impact the community the way it envisions it can.
Partnership’s early days
The GCU-CityServe partnership to impact the community began in earnest in December 2020, during the height of the global pandemic.
CityServe, a collaborative network of churches and community leaders in seven states connected to help those in need, wanted to partner with a university and found that partner in GCU, which shares many of the same values.
Donaldson speaks passionately about the church’s role in transforming the community and fixing a broken world, much like Mueller speaks of the University’s five-point plan and GCU’s role as a transformative force for change in west Phoenix.
GCU launched its collaboration with CityServe by joining with the organization in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program distributions, disbursing almost 20,000 food boxes (17 Shamrock truckloads) over six months, from December 2020 to May 2021, and did so in partnership with 42 partner organizations, from schools to churches and community service groups.
Just before the federal Farmers to Families initiative wrapped up May 31, Mueller and Donaldson announced the next step of the collaboration: that GCU would become CityServe’s HUB for Arizona in the distribution of household goods and other merchandise to families in need.
GCU’s warehouse will house overstock and like-new condition items, including gifts-in-kind from major retailers such as Costco, Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe’s, to name a few. Those items can range from anything like furniture to mattresses, blankets, school supplies, clothing and more.
Preparing for fall launch
With the first merchandise deliveries completed, GCU’s CityServe HUB continues to barrel forward: The first merchandise pickup was Friday as the site continues to prepare for even busier days ahead.
Volunteers will continue to stock merchandise. Spiritual Life and Students Inspiring Students volunteers stepped up last week to help with the first deliveries.
Cory is working with liaisons from every college and every department on campus that will supply volunteers and help in whatever capacity needed to make this next stage of the GCU CityServe collaboration happen.
Along with Cory and his team, those liaisons and volunteers in the next few weeks will be learning the system in time for the HUB’s launch. The goal is to begin a regular weekly cycle of deliveries by the second week of September.
“We’re going to be busy building relationships with ministry partners, or PODS (Points of Distribution),” said Cory.
The team this week started scheduling appointments with its POD partners to plan for future pickups at the warehouse.
Mueller has said GCU is looking to connect with about 100 churches, schools and community service organizations that will pick up merchandise from the GCU CityServe HUB to distribute to individuals-in-need that those partners have identified.
This effort, said Cory, is unlike anything he has ever seen in his 30-plus years in ministry. Cory, an ordained minister, served for 17 years with the Atlanta Mission, a multicampus ministry in Atlanta for those facing homelessness, poverty and addiction, and was the President and CEO of the Phoenix Rescue Mission for a decade before starting his own consulting company in leadership coaching.
On a recent tour of the warehouse on Tuesday, he and his team excitedly pulled up an app where volunteers delivering goods to families can post about those deliveries and the stories they hear from those grateful families. Some of those stories already are posted by other partners in the CityServe network. They’re stories of what’s to come for GCU’s own HUB and its partners.
Just as it mobilized and launched a COVID-19 vaccination site in just 10 days in January, GCU has created a warehouse site and launched a major initiative to support its five-point plan and its missional work in the community in a matter of four months.
That’s how things happen at GCU. They just don’t move at a snail’s pace.
“I’ve never been more excited in my life than right now,” Cory said, knowing he’s on the cusp of something amazing – something Mueller and Donaldson have said will be transformative. “This is going to be HUGE. We’re going to change the world.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at 602-639-7901 or at [email protected]