The History of Bidwell Riverside Center
In 1893, faithful Christians witnessed the pain and poverty of the poor citizens in Des Moines, Iowa. In response to the pain, the Methodist Deaconess Program helped begin Bidwell Riverside Center. Since then, Bidwell Riverside Center has been an ardent servant of the mission of Jesus Christ. We endeavor to minister to each and all in the spirit of unconditional love. The heritage of Bidwell Riverside Center is one rich with tradition and community togetherness.
Bidwell Riverside began as “Bidwell” and “Riverside”. Bidwell was established in 1893 by the deaconess of the Deaconess home in Des Moines. The Deaconess Association rented a small home on Center Street that was home to the organization. In 1896 they purchased a home at 1154 9th Street from funds provided by Major A.K. Bidwell, a dedicated member of First Methodist Church. The home became the setting for the Iowa Bible Training School for Deaconess until the space was outgrown! At that time the school moved to a building which is now the East Wing of the Iowa Methodist Medical Center.
In 1904, land next to the 9th Street property was purchased and a large renovation project took place. An addition and a third story were added to the 9th Street home. The renovation enabled the Bible Training School to return to the Bidwell property.
The Bible Training School continued at the Bidwell property until 1919 when the Women’s Home Missionary Society purchased a tract of land at 921 Pleasant where a new building was erected to house the growing school. Bidwell deaconesses used space in the new building for their social service outreach programs. The Bible Training School closed in 1931 and the building became “Iowa National Esther Hall.” However, Bidwell Social Services continued to operate out of the building until 1954 when they moved once again.
The “Riverside” Mission became in the early 1900s when an area on the southside of Des Moines known as “Boxtown” originated from the Des Moines area because the many Spanish-speaking people that inhabited this area lived in homes made from tarpaper covered boxes obtained from local department stores.
In 1909, the deaconesses started a Sunday School in a small rented house on Granger. They moved to a property on SE 14th and Hartford Court that was donated by L.M. Mann. In 1925, a new building was constructed to replace the building that was destroyed in a storm the prior year. Unfortunately, this location was under floodwaters three times during the summer of 1946. A move was once again in the near future and in 1948 a new site was secured at our present location of 1203 Hartford. The building from the property at SE 14th and Hartford Court was moved and remodeled.
In 1954 Bidwell Social Services and Riverside Community House merged to become one in mission. The former Bidwell Social Services building on East 26th remained as n extension of the Bidwell Riverside ministry.
1954 is also the year that Bidwell Riverside began the Chrismas Sharing Program. In that first year, 40 boxes of food were supplied to families. In 2004, that number was 967 families and continues to rise.
Bidwell Riverside Center’s started a full time Daycare Center to provide care for children ages 2 – 5. The center prides itself on it’s curriculum that is designed to prepare children for entry into Kindergarten. A thrift shop was added, and Emergency Food Pantry establised, and other Programs for many others have been expanded. Bidwell Riverside participated in the “Garden of Eden” program with local churches. The program was a gardening project aimed at feeding homeless people in the downtown area.
Bidwell Riverside continues to serve the community and people in need. The child care center enjoys success working with children to prepare them for the future. The food pantry and clothing distributions have continued to increase dramatically. The Christmas Sharing Program is likewise increasing in participation by individuals in need. It is estimated that the program will serve over 1,000 families in the 2009 Christmas season.
As long as the need exists, Bidwell will continue to provide food, clothing, child care, financial assistance, and hope to all that Bidwell Riverside serves.