University of Saint Mary packages meals for Ebola-ravaged Liberia
by John Shultz
LEAVENWORTH — For many of the 150 or so University of Saint Mary volunteers on hand here at USM’s Feed the Need food packaging event Nov. 15, the annual effort to combat hunger was about community — about coming together as a university to do something for those in need.
For Letty Baker and her family, the event had a more personal element. The Feed the Need event was declared the inaugural entry in the John Baker Global Service Project series — named in honor of Letty’s husband John, a member of the USM board of trustees who passed away in August.
“We’re delighted to be here,” said Baker, a 1962 Saint Mary graduate. “It’s something that John would have been really pleased to have been a part of.”
Whatever their motivation, the volunteers performed mightily, joining forces to package more than 22,000 nonperishable meals for shipment to the hungry in Ebola-ravaged Liberia. In all, the effort took just about two hours. And the volunteer crowd filled the air of the university’s cavernous McGilley Field House with music, laughter, happy banter — and a healthy competition between packing tables.
“It’s about helping the poor, about a way for us to help people who don’t have as much as we do,” said Dr. Cassy Cozine, associate professor of biology and a participant at all four of USM’s annual food packaging events.
“It’s a really great way to see everyone in the Saint Mary community come out and work together for service. It’s 20,000 meals in just a few hours!”
The effort, which was held in partnership with international hunger- relief agency OutReach, Inc., was spearheaded on USM’s side by Bob Killion and Sister Rejane Cytacki, SCL, both of the university’s campus ministry program. Past efforts have been held in October and November at Saint Mary, often in partnership with other hunger-relief agencies. Where the food goes is often dictated by the news — to help earthquake survivors in Haiti, for example.
Both Killion and Sister Rejane said the selection of Liberia as the target for this anti-hunger effort was a simple one, considering the grave headlines emanating from the region.
“Service is an essential part of faith life and, as such, activities like this are essential to our program,” said Killion, director of USM campus ministry. “For the students, this is a very tactile thing. Working with the rice, wearing hairnets, carrying the crates — this makes it very real for them.”
Sister Rejane echoed his sentiments, adding, “Being a Sister of Charity, we go back to St. Vincent de Paul, who was the father of the poor. So anything that connects those that have with those that are in dire need is a great thing for us.”
USM nursing students Blake Wright and Carlyle Rubin are both relative newcomers to the Saint Mary campus, but said they were impressed with the event and what they saw.
“We’ve been studying immunology in classes, and we’ve talked about the impact over there [in Liberia],” Rubin said. “It’s good to actually be doing something to help with some of the major situations we’ve been studying.”
Wright agreed, adding, “When you see a crowd like this, it’s great. It’s cool that we can all unite and achieve a common goal together.”
Baker said that her late husband would be happy with the university’s efforts. John Baker was a well-respected accountant who had played a key role in helping USM plan for future growth. He served as the president of Troupe Kehoe Whitaker & Kent and as a board member and treasurer of the Gladstone Area Chamber of Commerce and with the Northland Partnership. He also was very active with his church, St. Charles Borromeo in Kansas City, Missouri, as a eucharistic minister, sacristan and member of its finance team.
He was also an avid volunteer to his community, giving of his time to multiple organizations, including the Serra Club, the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, and the Center City Schools Fund of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“John worked at a food pantry ever since he retired. This was something that was very close to him,” Baker said. “And it’s so timely. It’s a part of the world that really needs our help and concern.”