Lutheran Service Society Celebrates 110 Years of Serving Our Vulnerable Neighbors
The Meals on Wheels Program, started in 1968, is still in operation today.
Lutheran Service Society is comprised of programs that enhance the lives of seniors and children including: Affordable Housing, Senior Centers, Center at the Mall, Meals on Wheels, Older Adult Protective Services and Adoption and Foster Care.
Although the needs of our area’s most vulnerable have changed over time, the mission of Lutheran Service Society has remained the same for 110 years – to empower people to lead independent, dignified and secure lives. In recent years, that mission has become increasingly focused on the needs of the aging population. This is, of course, in line with the mission of Lutheran SeniorLife.
In 1907, the city of Pittsburgh was ravaged by the Great Flood, crippling the city and leaving behind disease, poverty and hopelessness. The Lutheran Inner Mission Society of Pittsburgh (Now Lutheran Service Society) was established to provide “the relief of spiritual and physical needs by means of preached word and the ministrations of Christian love.”
“Jesus always ministered to the disenfranchised first,” said Terry Mann, director of Lutheran Service Society. “That was the goal back in 1907 and that’s what Lutheran Service Society continues to do today.”
Within just 10 years, the Society grew to 1,200 members, providing support to WWI veterans and unemployed steel workers and their families.
Following the Stock Market crash and Great Depression, the Society became one of the most important relief agencies in Pittsburgh. In 1933, it acquired Grace Lutheran Church to provide housing, work and support for homeless men. And when the city flooded again in 1936, the Society responded by giving clothing, supplies and shelter to the homeless.
In the coming years, the Society became increasingly involved in placing at-risk children into loving homes. This work was especially significant following WWII when it placed 160 children into foster homes.
“The idea was that children are also part of our vulnerable population, and they deserved a stable home,” Mann said, adding that Lutheran Service Society’s current Adoption and Foster Care program operates under the same principles.
In an effort to accommodate society’s changing needs, the Society introduced new programs for the elderly in the 1950s, and became a licensed childcare agency in 1959.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh was the home of the first Meals on Wheels kitchen in 1968. This program, still in operation today, serves homebound elderly in Beaver County.
“We are proud of our Beaver County program and are making efforts to expand this program in the future,” Mann said. “We currently serve more than 30,000 meals almost exclusively to seniors in Beaver County. We are also exploring returning to Allegheny County and perhaps expansion into Butler County.”
In the 1980s, the Society implemented a new housing program for low-income adults. St. Michael’s Village was completed in 1987, followed by several others throughout western Pennsylvania. At present, Lutheran Service Society owns and manages six other HUD properties which provide this housing option for low-income senior adults.
“Just because people don’t have financial resources,” Mann said, “doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to live with dignity.” Currently, fundraising efforts are underway to update St. Michael’s Village, including a new security system, needed facility repairs, upgrades to electrical service and eventually a renovation of the apartments themselves.
With the new millennium came an increased awareness of the importance of keeping seniors who are living at home healthy, active and engaged, through senior-oriented programming. Today they operate three senior centers (PrimeTime Senior Center and the Healthy Start Care in Allegheny County and Center at the Mall in Beaver County) that offer active programming, healthy meals and social opportunities.
“The goal of Lutheran Service Society has obviously changed every decade and adapted to the needs of our most vulnerable, at-risk populations. And we will continue to do so,” Mann said. “I think this is what our founders imagined would happen. In the future, I see a continuing emphasis on the elderly. We will always evaluate where the need is and who we are able to help, and we will continue to do it well, in a Christ-honoring fashion.”
In the Society's early years, the East End Guild provided clerical and fundraising support.
Lutheran Service Society supported unemployed men, even with the most basic services, to help them better support themselves and their families.
Meals on Wheels delivery, 1968
In the 1970s, Lutheran Service Society continued to expand with new locations in Butler, Hazelwood, East Liberty and Garfield.