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Mission and History

Our Mission

Investing in the hearts and minds of our children and their families to promote health and self-sufficiency, and faithfully extending the hand of hope and opportunity to empower the needy, uplift our target neighborhoods and the larger community, and brighten the future for us all.

Our History

Operation Shoestring was founded in 1968 in the basement of Wells United Methodist Church, as a response to the turbulence of the 1960s and the growing divisions in our city and state. As early director Nancy Gilbert put it, “It was a difficult time in our state, and especially here in Jackson. But many people of good will wanted to do something to reach across racial lines, and to show that their religious and spiritual lives impelled them to work towards racial harmony. That is how their religion manifested itself.”*

“There was thus a dovetailing of the times in Jackson,” continues Gilbert, “with the critical needs of the community and the efforts of a wonderful pastor named Russell Gilbert [no relation to Nancy].” The Bailey Avenue neighborhood was in transition, moving from white working class families to mostly black families who had moved from the Delta looking for work. Russell Gilbert contacted Methodists and members of other denominations who wanted to promote racial harmony and do something for our community during those times. Shoestring was thus born mostly out of Russell’s work.”

The Fund for Reconciliation was thus sponsored by the Mississippi Methodist Conference, and Operation Shoestring was its first major project. Centered in the area around Bailey Avenue, and headquartered in the basement of Wells Memorial United Methodist Church, Shoestring very quickly began to fill critical needs in the community.

Within a year of its opening, Shoestring offered such services as a medical clinic for children and adults, tutorial service, food stamp assistance, an emergency loan fund, a thrift shop, a school lunch program, and more… all on an operating budget of only $600 per month!

This was all possible only through the work of a regular corps of 36 volunteers, as well as the dedication of Nancy Gilbert and the staff of Wells (led by the Reverend Keith Tonkel, who succeeded Russell Gilbert and still presides at Wells). With faith, love and action, Shoestring empowered the neighborhood and rallied the community at large. The scope of our work has grown over the years, but the vision remains the same – love your neighbor as yourself, and act on that love.

Today, Operation Shoestring works as an interfaith ministry with support from a variety of individual and corporate funders, local congregations and several public entities. Our programs and services promote health and self-sufficiency in our target neighborhoods, uplifting the needy and brightening the future for us all…especially our children.

*From the Mississippi Methodist Advocate, 11/8/1969.