Volunteers from Catholic Charities load up donations from St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, on Dec. 15. PHOTO BY PAULA FROST

by Bob Hart
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas provides food assistance for thousands of families and individuals each year.

But the cold winter months bring with them a chill of another kind: reduced donations. At times, the cupboard is quite literally bare.

Judy Hightower, who volunteers with Catholic Charities each Friday, noticed a serious decline in food available for those in need and decided to take action. She brought her worries to the social concerns committee at her home parish of St. Patrick in Kansas City, Kansas.

“I took photos, and there was nothing on the shelf but the commodities (toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.),” Hightower said. “So I went to a meeting of the committee and told them what I knew. I asked if they would like to help. Next thing I knew, they were setting up this whole thing.”

Despite the parish school and School of Religion having just conducted a successful Thanksgiving drive to collect canned goods, the people of St. Pat’s decided to take on another drive, with short notice, as an Advent corporal works of mercy project.

Parishioner Katie Macke, who co-chairs the social concerns committee with her husband Carroll, said the decision was easy.

“It fit so well with the Advent season, and we’ll be doing it again during Lent,” she said. “Instead of giving something up, why not give something?”

Empty sacks were passed out after Mass just two weeks prior to the drive, held the weekend of Dec. 15. Parishioners were told of the need for cereal, oatmeal, canned goods, peanut butter and jelly, pancake mix and other nonperishables.

“We were overwhelmed with the response we got,” Katie said. “There were pickups pulling up filled with cases of canned goods.”

Paula Frost, who chaired the drive, said, “We had hoped it would be successful, and it was. We want people to know about the good things going on at St. Pat’s.”

Drives at the parish level are an important part of the Catholic Charities mission, according to Denise Ogilvie, vice president of outreach and grants management.

“Although the economy is doing well, there remains roughly 15 percent of the population living below the poverty level,” Ogilvie said, “and food pantries are one way people can stretch their budget further

“Having access to healthy food through our food pantries can keep a family stable, because it allows them to shift their food budget and use it for other necessities like utilities or rent.”

Ogilvie said Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas operates eight food pantries in the 21-county area and provides food assistance to 21,000 individuals each month.

“At Catholic Charities, we strive to live out the corporal works of mercy — to feed the hungry and to offer help, hospitality and hope to all who enter our doors,” she said. “Parish food drives are essential to helping us keep our food pantries stocked with canned and boxed items,” she continued, “allowing Catholic Charities to spend money on fresh food options like milk and produce.”