Column: Extraordinary need yielded an extraordinary response

by Jan Lewis

It was a bad day. The woman who walked through our door that Tuesday morning was battling cancer.

Her head scarf was the telltale sign. A single mother with two teenage boys, she was managing to get by until the cancer knocked her world sideways. What she needed that day was food for her family. What we gave her was a package of brown-and-serve rolls, all that was left on our barren food pantry shelves.

That night, one of the local television stations aired a story about a Salvation Army food pantry that was out of food. It seems Catholic Charities wasn’t the only agency feeling the pinch of a bad economy. Finally someone was taking notice. The next day I received a call from The Kansas City Star. Deb Skodack was writing a story about food pantries and asked how we were doing. So, I told her: Demand is up — way up — with lots of first-time families coming in for help, and donations haven’t been able to keep pace. I told her that we, too, were out of food.

The article hit the front page on a Friday morning and, by 10 a.m., people were coming to our rescue. A man pulled up with a trunk load of groceries and said he was going back to his local supermarket for more. A woman, on a fixed income, came by to drop off a check for $500. Residents at a local senior housing project went door-to-door and delivered a pickup load that afternoon. The food kept coming and, by the end of the day, our shelves were full. It was a good day.

I want to thank Deb and the editors at The Kansas City Star for bringing this story to the front page. I was confident that once people knew how dire the situation had become at our local pantries they would respond generously. That’s what people do here in the Midwest; they take care of each other. My biggest concern is that the hungry will too quickly become yesterday’s news.

At Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas we have been blessed with tremendous support from our local parishes, churches, schools and businesses, but we are living in extraordinary times. What used to be sufficient is now falling short, and people who have given in the past are feeling the economic downturn in their own homes.

It would be easy for us to pull back and retreat, to protect what is ours and let others fend for themselves. But that is not our Christian call. Extraordinary times require an extraordinary response. Whether you have a little or you have a lot, please share with those who have nothing.

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