by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
HOLTON — Every eight weeks, when the Catholic Charities Mobile Resource Bus rolls up to St. Dominic Parish here, local volunteers roll up their sleeves to help their neighbors in need.
From 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., they distribute free food and other donated items to people from the surrounding area. Just as importantly, the volunteers demonstrate concern and compassion as they interact with clients.
The mobile resource bus is an extension of the family support centers of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas — physical facilities in six of the more densely populated counties within the archdiocese. From its home base in the Kansas City area, the bus travels to the 15 more rural counties in northeast Kansas on an eight-week rotation on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In addition to providing food and supplies to meet basic needs, this program offers case management for rent and utility assistance.
The Holton site serves residents of Jackson County. Most of the volunteers at this location have been with the program since its 2017 inception. They are parishioners of St. Dominic and of St. Francis Xavier, Mayetta.
The volunteers value being part of a service that helps people who are facing difficult times.
Pam Doyle, St. Dominic parishioner, puts it simply: “We need to be more humanitarian and more caring and take the responsibility to help one another.”
Jackson County, in which Holton and Mayetta are located, has a population of 13,073 — 11.7% of whom live in poverty (www.povertyusa.org/data/2019).
Erin Ressegieu, Catholic Charities resource bus coordinator, says that gaps in food security and financial security are the biggest challenges facing residents.
So she makes sure the resource bus is stocked with food and supplies for the clients they’ll see, including large families. Other clients range from the elderly on fixed incomes to the mom of a newborn; from a person laid off from a job to a recent widow with a family.
On average, the Holton site serves 30 households each visit.
St. Dominic volunteer Jean Lierz recalls that when the program first began, people thought it served only Catholics. Sharing information helped dispel that notion and brought more residents to the site.
Accessing food and supplies requires no appointment or proof of income or need. But case management is also available by prescheduled appointments, with financial assistance based on demonstrated need and income guidelines.
When the bus arrives in Holton, volunteers unload and organize items on tables in the parish hall. This includes grocery bags of nonperishable food, frozen meat, bread, cleaning supplies, toiletries, hygiene kits, diapers and seasonal items — all donated by archdiocesan parishes and other charitable sources.
Starting at 9:30 a.m., clients enter the building. Upon completion of intake forms, they “shop” for needed items. Volunteers guide them around the tables, assist them to their vehicles or, in some cases, walk or drive the clients home. By mid-afternoon, the remaining food and perishable items are donated to the local food pantry.
“You become friends with the people,” explained Bill Berns, St. Francis Xavier parishioner. On his own initiative, Berns has driven a client to doctors’ appointments. When this client moved and was no longer within walking distance of St. Dominic, Berns arranged to bring food from the resource bus to his new address.
“I’m retired and helping with the Catholic Charities resource program is something that I can do,” said Berns. “I sense there’s a real need for this food and assistance.”
Pursuing her master’s degree in social work, Keri Bausch began volunteering to help people, to gain experience and to get more involved in St. Dominic Parish. Since becoming a new mom and taking a position as a social worker with the Royal Valley School District serving Hoyt and Mayetta, Bausch has had to limit her volunteer service to summer months.
Yet, she maintains connections. She hosted a back-to-school resource fair recently and invited Catholic Charities to staff an information table.
Of the resource bus, Bausch said, “I like that we’re able to help people in our community, rather than them having to travel to Topeka or a larger town for assistance.”
“Jesus calls us to serve,” she continued. “It’s pretty great that we have this opportunity to serve others and not get anything in return except the happiness we feel from helping others.”
The assistance of people like Bausch is critical to the effort.
“We couldn’t offer this service without our local and other volunteers,” said Camille Pickhinke, Catholic Charities director of community engagement.
Bus drivers are volunteers from the Kansas City area, as are those who prepackage grocery bags with nonperishable food. Of his recent trip to Holton, Dan Scherrer, volunteer driver and member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, observed: “Those volunteers really knew their stuff; everything went like clockwork.”
Ressegieu is the only Catholic Charities staff member on-site at each of the 15 rural locations. She oversees the program, provides case management, links clients with resources and cultivates community partnerships.
What Ressegieu loves most about the volunteers in Holton is that they are big-hearted. They not only assist families and individuals, but they make them feel welcomed and comfortable while doing so.
“Our volunteers are the cornerstone and the foundation of this program,” said Ressegieu.