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Article posted: 6/1/2013 8:00 AM

Willow Creek unveils multi-faceted Care Center to help those in need

By Eileen Daday

Willow Creek Community Church unveiled its new $10 million Care Center Friday in South Barrington, and the size and scope of the building left visitors amazed.

After years of planning, church officials moved their former food pantry and social service ministries just three miles from a Hoffman Estates location, but the gleaming new layout seems worlds away.

The 60,000 square feet of space on the southwest corner of the campus will open for business at 10 a.m. Monday. Tours will be given during an open house after the 5:30 p.m. service today and after Sunday morning services.

"After the recession hit in 2007 and 2008, we saw a more than 300 percent increase in the number of guests needing our services," said the Rev. Bill Hybels, pastor and founder of Willow Creek. "We knew we needed to make a bold move and declare our commitment not just to their spiritual life, but have a holistic approach to meeting their physical and material needs as well."

The expanded services housed in the new make it one of the nation's largest all-encompassing church outreach operations under one roof, officials say. The church had more than 2,000 volunteers lined up to staff it.

"We're passionate about the depth of care we're offering," says Heather Larson, Willow Creek's director of compassion and justice. "We wanted to do more than assist families in the community with grocery bags of food."

At its former Hoffman Estates facility, the church served more than 17,000 families last year. Church officials expect the new center to draw even more people, but underlying their care, officials say, will be dignity and a sense of value.

That becomes apparent with the center's new look. The main level opens up like a marketplace, complete with a children's clothing store -- stocked with gently used items -- and a food pantry styled like a full-choice grocery store.

The CARS ministry -- an acronym for Christian Auto Repairmen Serving -- is located behind the food pantry, as is a giant warehouse for the more than 4 million pounds of food.

The guest waiting area offers brightly colored furniture pods and conversation groupings, as well as computer stations. A Kids' Zone will tantalize children with play equipment and toys. Dental and optometry clinics will offer on-site care.

Hybels said bringing the Care Center on campus had a twofold goal: offering guests access to services meeting their spiritual and material needs and connecting church members with marginalized families living around them.

"I hope they gain a better understanding of the complexities of suburban poverty," Hybels said, "and involve themselves in the ministries here."

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