One hundred thirty volunteers contributed more than 600 hours to turn the old Dressler’s store at 1708 Steele Road into Catholic Charities’ new Hope Distribution Center.
The ribbon-cutting for the new food distribution center was held today in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. The warehouse will stock food, streamline distribution operations and serve the needy through nine Catholic Charities food pantries in a 21-county area in northeast Kansas.
“The Hope Distribution Center will certainly change the ways we do things at Catholic Charities a lot,” said Ken Williams, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. It will change the way Catholic Charities feeds the needy in the 21-county area.
“This center will allow us to take large commodity shipments directly from the federal government,” Williams said. “The bottom line, that means more food for those we serve.”
One of the things that has always impressed him about the Kansas City community are the partnerships across denominational, geographic and ethnic lines, said Archbishop Joseph Naumann.
“Tonight I think we have a reason to smile and see there is a lot of reason for hope, and because of this, many more people are going to be treated with dignity, many more people are going to be fed, and the love of Christ is going to be more and more tangible in our community,” he said.
Valerie Nicholson-Watson, president and CEO of Harvesters Community Food Network, said the rate of food insecurity in Wyandotte County is 19.2 percent. That means about 30,000 people may not always have enough food for a healthy life, she said.
And, 27.1 percent of the children in Wyandotte County are food insecure, she said. That percentage represents more than 12,000 children.
Currently, about 2,500 Wyandotte County children receive backpacks filled with food at 36 schools, she said, in a Harvesters BackSnack program designed to get food to children on the weekends.
“Catholic Charities helps struggling families move from crisis and poverty to stability and hope,” Nicholson-Watson said.
The community effect
“It is still the faith community that is on the ground, serving the poor in the United States of America,” Mayor Mark Holland said. “If the faith community in Kansas City, Kan., were not serving the poor, no one else would be.”
The behind-the-scenes management that takes place with this distribution center should not be overlooked, according to the mayor. It makes sure that resources are used to the maximum effect.
The mayor foresees a time when the food distribution programs help members of the community to get back on their feet to the level where they can look for a job. While there is a large task ahead in fighting hunger in the community, he said he believes the faith community is up to the task.
The new distribution facility, off Highway 69 between I-70 and I-35, will be strategically located to serve the Catholic Charities food pantries throughout the area, said Craig Gaffney, board chair of Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas.
Much of the funding for the project came from St. Michael the Archangel parish and from the Zarda Golf Classic fundraiser, as well as other sources.
A building directly east of the warehouse is a former firehouse that now is being used as a food pantry, Williams said.
The food pantry is different in that clients will not be handed a box of food, but will use a grocery cart, walk down a few aisles, and pick out food they want and need, Williams said. There will be a chart that shows the quantities from each food group they may receive. The food pantry is open to persons of all beliefs.
Williams said two new bus stops will bring people to the food pantry.
Besides going to the local community, food also will be going out to some rural areas of Kansas, according to Williams, with the expansion of a mobile food program for the needy in rural areas.
Large numbers of volunteers for this project came from Our Lady of Unity Church and also from St. Michael the Archangel Church.
One of the volunteers who helped put shelves in the new food pantry was Unified Government Commissioner Angela Markley.
When volunteers and staff members were still getting the distribution center and food pantry ready, a woman came to the food pantry before it was open and asked if it was open, according to Williams.
She became the first person to use the new food pantry, as Kim Brabits, the pantry’s director, did not turn her away.
Brabits gave the woman a grocery cart and asked her to walk through the aisles and pick the food she wanted, using a card to guide her, Williams said. The woman was somewhat bewildered because she wasn’t handed a bag of groceries. She was surprised she would get to choose her food. The woman shopped with tears coming down her face, he said. When she was finished shopping, she gave everyone a hug.
“That’s what this place represents,” he said. “It represents hope.”