by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Have you ever been to the Great Desert of Wyandotte County?
It’s not hard to find.
The desert is located mostly east of College Parkway and the Turner Diagonal, east of South 59th Street, and north of 47th Street.
By now you might be puzzled. True, this area has no burning and shifting sand dunes or alkali flats, but it is a desert of sorts.
This is a food desert, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (For more detailed information, including maps, go to the website at: www.ers.usda.gov and click on “Food Security in the U.S.” link.)
A food desert is an area without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.
Although you won’t go hungry in this desert, you might eat your way to a heart attack or diabetes.
“Fifty-five percent of all Wyandotte County restaurants are fast food establishments versus 27 percent nationally,” said Kim Brabits, vice president of program operations at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “Access to fresh and available produce is limited in Wyandotte County, which makes it an urban food desert.”
Recently, Catholic Charities teamed up with the Harvesters Community Food Network to improve the desert.
On Nov. 15, the two organizations operated a mobile food pantry between 1 and 3 p.m. at the Kansas City Kansas Community College Technical Education Center, located at 65th and State Ave.
From a single tractor-trailer, Catholic Charities volunteers gave out 22,000 pounds of food — 18 pallets — to 2,349 individuals. Almost half the people served were children.
“There was enough asparagus to feed a small village,” said Dustin Hardison, director of family stabilization at Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities knows how to run a pantry — mobile or otherwise.
“We’ve got nine food pantries we operate in the 21 counties of the archdiocese, and we’ve got two mobile resource buses,” said Hardison. “We give out a lot of food.”
Additionally, Catholic Charities operates a smaller mobile pantry during summer months at the food pantry, located at 333 Poplar in Olathe.
The larger mobile pantries operate for only a few hours in temporary locations. They offer bulk, perishable items that have to be distributed quickly. By contrast, established pantries offer mostly nonperishables.
Earlier mobile pantry distributions had been done by another organization, but it was unable to continue the effort.
“Harvesters called us and said they had a mobile site but they needed to move,” said Brabits. “They asked us to sponsor a mobile site for them. They’re great partners. They helped us quite a bit with our new distribution center. So when they asked us for help, we were happy to oblige.”
Catholic Charities has committed to doing two more mobile pantry efforts with Harvesters at the KCKCC Technical Education Center on Dec. 13 and 20.
“After that, we’ll give Harvesters time to regroup and decide what they want to do with that mobile pantry,” said Brabits.
Volunteers are needed to make the mobile pantries work, so Brabits and Hardison invite interested persons to call Michelle Carlstedt, volunteer coordinator, at (913) 433-2100.
Top Ten Most Wanted Food Items
1. Canned meat, fish and soups
2. Canned ready-to-eat meals (low salt; low fat)
3. Canned vegetables and tomato products (low salt)
4. Peanut butter (plastic container)
5. Cereal (nonsweetened)
6. Canned fruit (low sugar)
7. Dry beans (any type)
8. Enriched rice or pasta
9. Whole wheat pasta
10. Shelf-stable milk
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