by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — It’s almost time to carve that delicious Thanksgiving turkey.
Then, before you know it, Christmas jingles will be stuck in your head, red and green lights will brighten the streets and stores will be flooded with shoppers searching for the perfect gift.
As the holidays approach, the commotion can cause us to forget about those who aren’t able to enjoy the same seasonal luxuries.
But in the midst of the chaos, one more task is not such a stretch, especially when you know it will change the lives of others.
Buying a few extra groceries to feed the hungry is one way to embrace the season of giving.
Catholic Charities witnesses this every day. The organization has seen countless lives impacted by the kindness of others.
And big things are happening at Catholic Charities food pantries across northeast Kansas.
“We have seen a 25 percent increase [in clients] across sites,” said Kim Brabits, vice president of program operations.
“The economy is getting better, but wages are not high enough to keep up with [the] demand of increased food prices and the increase in sales tax,” she said.
The organization now operates nine full-service food pantries. It also delivers senior meals in four counties and hosts 11 summer feeding sites.
The Lawrence and Overland Park service centers are just two of the nine affected by the increase in clients and the organization’s expansion.
“It’s been a steady growth for us here in the Lawrence office,” said Nickie Daneke, director of the Lawrence emergency assistance center.
The growth is just one problem.
“I think food prices have definitely gone up, especially for healthy foods. A lot of people are becoming more health conscious, and healthier foods are unfortunately more expensive,” said Daneke.
Finding creative ways to bring healthy options to clients is a key undertaking across pantries.
At the Lawrence and Overland Park locations, this includes providing cooking classes for clients and combining foods to make more out of the options at hand.
“We’re thinking about 100 percent whole wheat, low sodium, [low] saturated fats,” said Heather Roberts, manager of the Overland Park office.
“We’re trying to get more produce, more healthy options,” she continued, “just like what you think of when you want to go to the grocery store.”
Instead of “getting rid” of the canned food you know you’ll never eat at the parish collection, therefore, why not intentionally add things to your shopping list this year that will truly benefit the hungry.”
“Providing such nourishment is crucial for one’s health, because poverty is a health issue,” said Daneke.
Catholic Charities is stretched, fighting to deliver to a larger client base, and the organization can’t do it without donations.
“Someone humble enough to come into our food pantry and ask for food — we’re going to feed them,” said Brabits.
The goal, she said, is “making sure that our food pantries are all client choice, and respecting the dignity of everybody that comes in.”
“Most people are embarrassed or not wanting to come . . . and they’re just struggling to get by,” said Roberts. “And so, if we’re able to give them some food so they can pay their bills and keep life moving forward, that’s what we want.
“The people that we see are people that we interact with every day. People that work at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. . . . It’s people that you talk to every day.
“It’s people that are just like anyone else.”