by Laura Ingrim
Wilkinson Center is thrilled to be celebrating our 40th anniversary this year! In September of 1982, Reverend Clayton Lewis of Munger Place United Methodist Church looked up from his desk and saw a child digging for food in a dumpster. Knowing he had to do something to help, Reverend Lewis began assisting families with food and clothing needs. In that first month alone, he served 67 families and thus the seed for Wilkinson Center was planted.
Wilkinson Center began as a simple way for families to help their neighbors during difficult times, primarily through food and clothing pantries. At the same time, the East Dallas Cooperative Parish, a coalition of 12 East Dallas churches, was created to provide local churches with vital resources to become outposts of service for their individual neighborhoods. With the support of the churches in the East Dallas Cooperative Parish, Wilkinson Center rapidly grew and expanded into new areas. Wilkinson Center gained our name in 1985 with a generous gift in honor of volunteer Ruby Wilkinson.
Over the years, new programs were added, including the Employment Assistance program in 1985, the Shoe Distribution created by volunteer Carlin Morris in 1986, and the Safe Haven after-school program in 1998. All of these programs centered on Wilkinson Center’s mission of supporting our clients on their pathways to self-sufficiency.
In 1997, Wilkinson Center became a stand-alone nonprofit organization, independent from our many church partners. To garner additional community support, the Wilkinson Center Auxiliary, now named the Friends of Wilkinson Center, was created in 2003. The Friends are ambassadors for Wilkinson Center, supporting the organization through events, donations, and volunteering.
In 2008, the Food Pantry moved from its location on lower Greenville Avenue to Buckner Blvd., a strategic location closer to clients in food deserts, such as Pleasant Grove. This move and new location was funded by the generous employees at Medical City Hospital, who wanted to better serve the people in their service area. The next year, Wilkinson Center was designated as a flagship agency for the North Texas Food Bank.
At the same time, Wilkinson Center’s Adult Education program rapidly expanded, beginning with a partnership with the Dallas College system that allows Wilkinson Center to hold classes at the Eastfield Pleasant Grove campus. The Family Education Center opened in 2013, and additional sites in Mesquite and at the Arcadia Park Annex in west Dallas were established in 2016. During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual options were added to Wilkinson Center’s class offerings.
A lot has changed over the last 40 years, but Wilkinson Center’s unwavering commitment to our mission remains the same. From the beginning, we have served families with dignity and respect and have provided pathways to success for thousands of our neighbors in Dallas County. For more information on Wilkinson Center’s rich history and how you can support our mission, click here.
Happy Anniversary, Wilkinson Center!