NORTH PORT — North Port is Sarasota County’s quickest growing city.
And with that development comes perks. At least those perks that help the less fortunate.
The Salvation Army has opened a services center off Tamiami Trail. The 12-acre site, which is a former church and was home long ago to a museum honoring police officers, includes reception areas, offices and activity rooms.
The Salvation Army itself dates to the 1860s when it served the poor as the Christian Mission in London. Millions each year are touched worldwide by The Salvation Army.
The North Port site had a soft opening earlier this month and is now taking appointments only until the COVID-19 threat lessens and when final work is completed on the nearly 5,000 square-foot building, said Maj. Chuck Whiten, area commander for The Salvation Army in Sarasota County.
“It would be easier to predict if it wasn’t for COVID,” he said. “But this is an opportunity to expand services to a growing community.”
The Salvation Army in North Port will have nearly every service except a shelter for the homeless, Whiten said. And that could come down the road, he added, at an off-campus location.
The new center will have a food pantry, programs addressing poverty, disaster relief, life skills, job training and dozens of others, including holiday clothing and toy giveaways.
Bell-ringers will be out this season, Whiten said, as they were when he was a kid in North Carolina playing the trombone at red-kettle sites.
“That’s what it did for me,” he said of The Salvation Army in the 1970s and how it formed his aspirations. His wife Julie is the daughter of career Salvation Army officers.
North Port’s branch since 2005 had worked from cramped offices on Pan American Boulevard. It served a handful of locals, which changes in a big way with the much larger center on Tamiami Trail.
“It is so good for our city,” said Jill Luke, North Port’s vice mayor, who attended this month’s private ribbon-cutting that was limited due to the coronavirus. “A true access point for social services.”
North Port’s new Salvation Army building had once been the American Police Hall of Fame & Museum, opened in 1960 to honor cops killed in the line of duty. Its founder was Gerald Arenberg. He was injured working and had wanted to honor others in his profession. The place had a tall police officer statue as a landmark in front of the building.
That center with its 11,000 artifacts and a memorial wall with some 9,000 names of fallen American officers on it had since moved across the state to Titusville.