by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
MOUND CITY — Neighbors helping neighbors. That’s what was happening when the Catholic Charities Resource Bus parked in the lot of Sacred Heart Parish here recently.
And it’s what happens every Tuesday and Thursday when the Resource Bus takes goods and services to the rural communities of the archdiocese.
The Mobile Resource Bus program was launched about five years ago, in an effort to make sure Catholic Charities had a footprint in all 21 counties of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“We have physical brick and mortar buildings — Emergency Assistance Centers — in six counties: Johnson, Wyandotte, Atchison, Leavenworth, Shawnee and Douglas,” said Camille Pickhinke, parish and community outreach coordinator for Catholic Charities.
That left 15 counties untouched.
“These are our rural, outlying areas that are oftentimes food and resource deserts,” she said.
To reach these communities, two buses were purchased with the aid of grant funding. Each serves as an office on wheels.
In each county served by the Mobile Resource Bus, Catholic Charities partners with a church, library or social service agency to “set up shop.” At Sacred Heart, the parish hall was used for the morning.
In the afternoon, the bus traveled to Osawatomie and served clients out of the public library.
“Our objective is to offer stabilization services to individuals and families with the goal of helping them work toward strengthening themselves and their families,” said Pickhinke.
During scheduled appointments, a case manager provides wraparound case management, budget coaching and appropriate referrals.
In some cases, direct financial assistance funds may be used to help with a rent or utility bill for those individuals who are identified as at-risk.
“It’s about supporting and cheering people on,” said case manager Megan Ryan. “It’s about helping people to survive.”
Others come because they are in need of food or clothing. There are no income requirements or appointments required for such assistance.
Grocery bags are filled with shelf-stable proteins, fruits and vegetables. When in season, fresh fruit and vegetables are particularly popular because they are often more expensive and not as accessible in rural areas as in urban and suburban communities.
“Sometimes, there isn’t a grocery store available in the community,” said Pickhinke.
People can also get diapers, hygiene items and books — all free of charge. All the items distributed via the Resource Bus are donated from parish, school and community groups. Food and clothing collected during parish drives are taken to the Catholic Charities warehouse in Kansas City, Kansas, where they are sorted, then distributed to the local sites or taken to the rural communities.
It takes many hands to make this all happen.
“Donations of goods and time are what truly make a difference,” said Terry Punswick, a member of the Olathe Ladies Auxiliary who was helping out in Mound City. “Need is year-round.”
It is the mission of Catholic Charities to animate the Gospel of Jesus by putting love into action.
“We not only strive to live this out as an agency,” said Pickhinke, “but we want to invite others to do so as well. We truly believe in neighbor serving neighbor.”
That’s why Catholic Charities is working to grow a volunteer base in each community served with the Resource Bus by providing volunteer opportunities. Catholic Charities currently has volunteers from parishes in Emporia, Osage City, Oskaloosa, Holton, Garnett and Marysville.
And they are happy to train more.
“By training and equipping local volunteers to setup, run and manage the food and clothing distribution in the outlying community, we are providing them an opportunity to fulfill their Gospel mandate (Mt 25: 35-40) and allows us to have a bigger impact in each community,” said Pickhinke.
The continued success of the Resource Bus program is based on consistency: maintaining a regular presence in the outlying communities, having the necessary goods and services to deliver, and fielding enough volunteers to make it happen.
“Getting the bag of food and other stuff helps me get through to the end of the month so I can feed my kids,” said one individual in Osawatomie. “But the best part of coming here is that these people are happy to see me.”
“We can’t fulfill all of the needs,” said Pickhinke. “But we all certainly can try to help our neighbors.”