As the construction progresses at the Serve&Lift Food Pantry, the future of Catholic Charities’ support of families in need comes into focus! Here’s a walk through the different areas inside the building and a glimpse into how families in need will find help in each. 

The Lobby/Welcome Area

The first area that men and women will enter is our lobby – which is designed with elements of hospitality and welcome rather than a place to simply wait to be seen. There will be two comfortable seating areas. One will have a specific play area for little ones, complete with appropriate tables and chairs, coloring pages and activities like puzzles and books as well as a sensory wall to assist those who may find unfamiliar places disturbing and need something to keep their hands and minds busy and calm. Soft chairs, bright colors and safety measures like padded corners will give our young visitors a good place to be, while parents engage with our staff during their registration and intake.

The reception desk is visible upon entry into the building, taking away any anxiety of knowing where to go or who to speak with even on someone’s first visit. Large monitors display information on activities at the Serve&Lift Center that day, as well as the multiple services that we offer.

Confidential Meeting Rooms

When meeting with a case manager or Welcome Center specialist, men and women will have the dignity of a confidential meeting room just off the lobby area. There, they can share the issue that brought them to Catholic Charities, complete their intake and be offered services and supports (such as a food pantry visit, hygiene items, employment services workshops, financial literacy classes and more) in a quiet room without concerns about being overheard – or judged. All rooms are ”smart rooms” – so if a referral needs to be made to a partner agency, or the case manager in a specific program is working elsewhere that day, our clients may connect with them over a video call. This allows us to provide complete wrap around services immediately, and not require the client to make a second trip to the Center simply because the right staff was not available that day. 

Workshop Rooms

Group meeting rooms will feature movable tables and chairs, Smart Boards and Zoom/Teams video connection capabilities. Some rooms will seat 40-50 attendees so any client who chooses to come to a job search, resume writing, interview preparation or soft skills workshop will find a seat available to them. Financial literacy classes offered will be able to easily access online content as well as live presentations by our employment services staff. 

The Food Pantry area

This is the heart of the Serve&Lift Center. The area will look much like the neighborhood grocery store: canned and dry goods will be displayed on shelving in the center of the room and around the perimeter, men and women will make their selections from display freezers (for frozen meats and vegetables) or refrigerators (for dairy and other items that need to be kept cool). Market style produce bins will be filled with a colorful array of fruits and vegetables, provided by our partners at Harvesters and others who donate in-season foods for our clients to enjoy. Bakers racks will offer breads, rolls and even some desserts which come from our food rescue efforts from Roma Bakery, HyVee and other donors. The ability to choose not only what kind of food to take home, but pick out the pieces of fruit and the particular vegetables they take home provides dignity to our clients and allows them to feel empowered and respected. Volunteers will be on hand to answer questions or assist in making choices. A cooking demonstration cart will feature someone cooking dishes that are created with the foods available that day in the pantry, and give ideas on how to prepare unfamiliar foods in a nutritious manner – all with simple appliances like a microwave or an electric skillet. 

The Kitchen

While most of the food available at the pantry will be on display for families to choose from, we know that we will often receive produce or other items with a short expiration date. In order to use them we’ll need to prepare them for frozen storage or perhaps create ready-to-heat meals to send home with families to eat that evening. In order to process those items, our commercial grade kitchen will feature stoves, larger refrigerators and stainless steel prep tables with ample room for staff and volunteers to turn what might have been food waste into nutritious dinners. We can send those ready to warm up and eat meals home with a busy working mom, so she can spend her time helping sons or daughters with homework rather than cooking a meal from scratch. That’s a benefit that not many pantries offer – and becomes a gift of time as well as supplemental family food. 

The Warehouse

If the food pantry is the heart of the Serve&Lift Center, the warehouse is the muscle that makes it run. Right now, we cannot accept large quantities of food because we have no place to unload or store it. When the Center is complete, semi trucks will be able to easily back up to the dock door, and volunteers with pallet jacks can quickly unload and move large quantities of food into the warehouse area for processing. Floor to ceiling shelving will provide ample storage space, while walk in freezers and coolers mean we can accept and store significant donations. This means our inventory can become more stable, and we can access food programs that have been out of reach for us as we could not handle semi-trailer loads of food items. The dock door was one of the first elements changed in the building – and we were intentional in keeping the original stained glass windows on each side of the door, as a reminder to staff, volunteers and delivery drivers that this is a special and holy place.

The Chapel

Every encounter with Catholic Charities is infused with hope. We know that poverty is a cruel taskmaster, and simply providing life’s necessities takes extra time and effort if someone is balancing one or two jobs, care for children or elderly family members, unreliable transportation or concerns about medical conditions. We can provide assistance to dealing with practical matters like food – which feeds someone’s body – but most importantly, we can provide a respite from the constant barrage of barriers and obstacles – which can feed someone’s soul. The Center’s Chapel provides a quiet space for prayer or reflection, and a place to find some rest along the difficult journey of climbing out of poverty. The Chapel houses the altar that served the St. Matthew’s Catholic community, but is open and available to everyone, regardless of faith tradition. 

Come See for Yourself!

The construction is progressing as scheduled and each area moves closer to completion each week. Scan the QR code on page 6 of this newsletter to register for one of our Hard Hat tours – and see this special place as it unfolds. 

By Susan Walker, Executive Director of Outreach and Engagement at Catholic Charities of Kansas City–St. Joseph

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