The Hampden Family Center, a nonprofit that has provided food and social service casework to the community for the past 28 years, has shut down indefinitely due to financial issues.

A printed notice on the door at the center’s office at 1104 W. 36th St. reads, “Hampden Family Center Is on Vacation!” Yet all the staff members have been let go, a former employee said.

Ken Mosher, the former operations director, said his last day was Aug. 4, when the center’s board of directors sent him and the remaining four staff members home. The center shut down Aug. 7.

“They told everyone that we didn’t have any money and that we were all not going to have a job with a one-day notice. So I mean, it was a complete shock,” Mosher said.

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The center acknowledged the impact that the closure would have on its clients and staff in a pop-up message on its website and stressed that it was working to resume operations.

“We know our services are essential to the clients we serve, and that this closure will impact them the most, along with our dedicated staff. Please know that the whole community is working hard to reinstate the Center’s programs and services in the short-term and to find ways to establish the sustainability of our operation in the long term. We hope to be back up and running as soon as possible to continue serving our cherished Hampden community,” the statement said.

The message also included a link for donations.

Day-to-day operations at the center included full-time case management, assisting people with everything from SNAP benefits to tax and utility assistance.

In addition to its social service work, the center offered school enrichment programming, in which many children, often from Hampden Elementary/Middle School, came for child care and to learn from instructors about art, gardening and more. Space in the facility also was used for support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Ashley Wilkes, who served as the group’s executive director for the past three years, resigned the day before the new fiscal year started on July 1 because she needed a career change, she said. She first notified the center’s board that she would be leaving in December 2022. But after being asked to stay, she remained on an additional six months.

Wilkes said that despite budget and capital campaign deficits she inherited, she was able to rebuild the center’s staff during her tenure. She had no idea that center would be closing a little over five weeks after her departure.

“I was never contacted by the board of directors about the center closing, I found out through community partners and social media,” said Wilkes, adding that hundreds of clients will all be negatively affected in Hampden.

“The center has been a lifeline for hundreds of Hampden residents for 28 years, and is the only organization in the neighborhood that serves every age. And a permanent closing would be detrimental to all those that we serve,” Wilkes said.

Rev. Jim Muratore, of St. Luke’s Church on the Avenue, credited Wilkes with successfully navigating the center through the pandemic and increasing its case management load.

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St. Luke’s and the center care for the same population. In 2017, the center operated out of St. Luke’s during renovations, Muratore said.

State records show the renovation cost more than $1.6 million to complete.

Mosher, who has served as director of operations since May 2022, said, “It seems like something was mismanaged.”

He went on to say: “I didn’t know we were running at a deficit, you know. So, it seems to me, for any big organization to just shut down with one day’s notice, there’s got to be something wacky.”

According to its most recent tax filing, the center had total revenue of $488,920, with operating expenses of $523,060.

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“Local nonprofits often operate on a shoestring budget, but make wonderful things happen in and for the communities they serve. And sometimes all it takes is an absence in leadership for an organization to fall. That’s partly reflective of what happened here,” Muratore said. “The work that the center does is so important to this community and these circumstances being what they are should be a wake-up call.”

Board President Angela Profili declined to comment. A statement issued Wednesday via email on behalf of the board said that members are continuing their search for a new executive director.

“Our actions reflect a challenging fundraising environment, incentivizing our efforts to develop a new path for moving the Hampden Family Center forward,” the board said. “We know the need is still there for our services. Going forward we will find a more sustainable way to meet that need.”

Mosher said the center’s closing was a disappointment.

“We were always planning and envisioning different things that the center could be for people in the community. And it’s so sad that this has happened so abruptly,” Mosher said. “I feel like my mission never got fulfilled.”

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Mosher said the staff and board of directors weren’t at odds, but he said the staff also “just didn’t really have a working relationship with them.” And the communication became less frequent after Wilkes left the organization, he said.

Ki Park, who owns The Lunch Box, which is next door to the center, said he has watched the center serve the community for the past decade.

“I’ve seen firsthand how the center helps a lot of people,” Park said. “For example, on Fridays, they have like a food drive, where there’s a line all the way up the block, filled with senior citizens and young kids that they take care of. And, you know, to think that that’s all going to go away, I don’t what these people are going to do.”

penelope.blackwell@thebaltimorebanner.com

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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