July brought some wonderful news for the south Kansas City Serve&Lift Center food pantry. The J.E and L.E. Mabee Foundation, well known for supporting capital projects that benefit communities throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas, has awarded Catholic Charities a $900,000 challenge grant in support of building out the food pantry. This is an exciting and inspiring commitment on their part, and we are eager to “meet the challenge”, raise the needed funds to meet the challenge, and realize the full vision of the client choice food pantry model!
Here are our ambitious plans!
The total project covers 14,614 square feet under roof, and will house a 13,309 sq ft food pantry, kitchen, warehouse and office/meeting rooms specific to the pantry, plus 8,119 sq ft of additional office and meeting rooms for other supportive services and administration.
Our renovation of 8001 Longview Road (the former St. Matthew Parish site) will create food display and distribution space, a commercial kitchen, significant warehouse with dock capable of accepting food delivery via semi or box truck, lobby area with private client meeting rooms and a four-vehicle garage. The display/distribution area will allow individuals to “shop” for their own food according to nutritional needs, cultural and taste preferences with dignity. Rather than providing a box packed with a pre-selected variety, the pantry will offer full service displays of fresh produce, refrigerated coolers for dairy and freezers for meats as well as shelf stable options.
The dock and warehouse space means we can processing food donations from food banks and private sources, space for volunteers to fill orders placed via our online platform and food recovery activities.
This dignified access to pantry services also serves as an entry point to other wrap around social services to support an individual’s employment, family or housing needs. This removes transportation and time barriers and puts the client individual or family in the center of a circle of needed programs and assistance.
The impact of food insecurity
Food insecurity and all life domains are interconnected: Feeding America notes that ‘people who are food insecure are disproportionally affected by diet-sensitive chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.” This makes the client choice model crucial not only for sustaining life, but also for supporting health.
Mapping the Meal Gap, an annual study sponsored by Feeding America, has linked food insecurity to a variety of negative impacts on both children and adults which have a cascading effect on children’s academic achievement and an adult’s ability to secure and maintain employment:
Food price inflation has accelerated during 2022, eroding the purchasing power of many families at the grocery store. On September 15, 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US food price index increased 11.4 percent in August 2022, the largest 12-month increase recorded since May 1979.
It will take a long time to recover from the pandemic and related effects. In their March 2021 brief on the impact of the Coronavirus, Feeding America noted that after the Great Recession in 2008, it took nearly ten years, until 2018, for food insecurity to prerecession levels, and even then, 37 million people were still at risk of hunger.
Our comprehensive food pantry model helps families fill the gap between what their finances and federal benefits will provide to supply the nutrition they and their children require for a healthy life.
The benefits of our food pantry plans:
The Serve & Lift Center pantry will be a welcoming and engaging environment, providing a value-added experience to the clients and community with inclusive food options specific to specific dietary requirements and access to nutritionally dense food and shelf stable food.
Knowledge and empowerment are the foundational components of the food pantry experience, so individuals and families utilize the client choice model in which they select their own foods either by shopping in person or when ordering online for next day pick up or delivery. Clients also learn more about their own nutrition, through demonstrations that highlight cooking skills and safe food handling, featuring foods that are available in the pantry but may be unfamiliar to their family. In addition, staff can assist clients and community members in enrollment in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women Infant Child program (WIC) which once approved, increases the nutritional value and access to food.
There will be ample opportunities to be part of this exciting project – the pantry will continue operations during fundraising and construction, which is expected to last until mid-2024. Volunteers are needed daily to assist clients, fill orders and help manage inventory. When the pantry is complete and fully operational, opportunities to assist will multiply! We’ll need warehouse help, cooks and food prep workers in the kitchen, shopping assistants, sorting crews, and many more roles – we have just begun to dream about how busy this location will be! Watch this newsletter, our social media and our website for progress, and for your chance to come Serve&Lift with Catholic Charities.
By Susan Walker, Executive Director of Outreach and Engagement at Catholic Charities of Kansas City–St. Joseph