As St. Mark’s celebrates 60 years of mission and ministry, we are excited to give back to the community that has given so much to our church and school. The Hearts of Palm Center is one way we can say “Thank You!”
Building on the legacy of love that the form er St. George’s Church and Community Center provided, St. Mark’s is offering a new vision for our old friend. The state-of-the-art building will support and sustain the feeding program for years to come. The space for our parish’s Hearts of Palm ministry will make access to the community we serve easier and more fruitful. The chapel will ensure worship and prayer always guide the ministry from this place. And, additional offices and communal spaces will allow for the collaboration of other agencies and persons who minister and offer vital support to those in need.
Our gift of this building is meant to honor others who are often overlooked, forgotten and left on the side of the road. The hopes and prayers of St. Mark’s are that those who enter this building will find the heart of God awaiting their arrival to a home that often eludes them elsewhere. It’s a joy to shine as a beacon of faith, hope and light as we seek to respect the dignity of every human being.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rev. James B. Cook
The vision of the Hearts of Palm Center is to restore human dignity to our neighbors in Riviera Beach, who face constant challenges securing basic sustenance for mind, body and spirit. By investing our resources to build the Center, St. Mark’s is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty and injustice - modeled by the work of Jesus, who lived and loved through service, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15)
Sixty years ago, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Riviera Beach helped give birth to St. Mark’s as Palm Beach County continued its steady growth north. Over the years, the two congregations kept in close touch sharing ministries together that included co-founding the feeding program that began at St. George’s in the late 1980s. St. George’s dwindling congregation, however, made it hard to secure priestly leadership and to maintain buildings and grounds. Facing an unsustainable future, St. George’s faithful members accepted a helping hand from St. Mark’s. After an 18-month feasibility study, the two congregations made an exciting and visionary appeal to the bishop and diocesan leadership. In a statement of faith and friendship, the diocese deeded the St. George property to St. Mark’s. In a return to its roots, St. Mark’s is building the Hearts of Palm Center, where St. George’s once stood and that congregation’s faithful Christian witness will continue for generations to come.
In the early days of Hearts of Palm, a mission of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the needs in the community surrounding St. George’s were overwhelming. Desperate for help, neighboring residents Pecola and Willie invited Hearts of Palm Director Karen Cook on a tour of their home where Karen’s eyes were drawn to a tarp-covered roof. When she inspected the inside of the house her worst fears were confirmed with mold covering the walls and a damaged roof caving into the interior rooms.
As they stood together, Karen was overwhelmed. She thought that this was beyond her expertise and more costly than she had imagined. Led by her spiritual resolve and mission of service, Karen told Pecola, “I don’t know how. I don’t know when. I don’t know who. But St. Mark’s is going to get this roof fixed and your home livable again!” Pecola responded, “I knew the Lord has sent me an angel.” Six months later, Hearts of Palm put on a new roof, painted the house, and replaced the inside walls. Pecola and Willie had a home again; restoring their dignity and paving the way for Hearts of Palm to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The new Hearts of Palm Center will be in the heart of Riviera Beach; deemed a “food desert” by the USDA where 40% of the population live below the poverty line – much higher than the national average of 11.6%. A beautiful chapel will serve as the heart of the building bringing spiritual renewal to all who visit. St. George Table will find its new home in the Hearts of Palm Center and will serve over 200 meals per day, while several branch offices of local social service agencies will offer wraparound services to the individuals and families being fed. Its transformation, through innovative architecture designed by Birse Thomas, will set an example of space reimagined with emphasis on security, beauty, and place of importance.