by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out the problem with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas food pantries.
Donations are down and demand is up.
At Hope Distribution Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where food donations are sorted and distributed to pantries, logistics and distribution manager Michael Gonzales doesn’t see the odds improving without a serious increase in supply.
“From last year’s numbers,” he said, “we’re about 10 percent down from our parish donations, and the grocery store pickups have decreased by 37 percent.
“In August we saw a 51 percent increase in households that came to our pantries.”
Many issues contribute to the imbalance — the rising cost of groceries, supply chain challenges and an economy on the brink of a recession.
Food Banks such as Harvesters that help furnish product are feeling the pain, too.
“Five thousand dollars used to get us 20 weeks worth of milk and eggs for our clients,” said Gonzales. “Now it’s cut down to maybe seven or eight weeks.
“And we are definitely hurting for produce. Harvesters used to have 12 pages of items you could purchase or get free.
“Now they’re down to one or two pages.”
Camille Pickhinke, director of community engagement for Catholic Charities, sees nutritious food as a critical priority for people in crisis.
“The way we serve a majority of people is through our food pantries,” she said. “We can help stabilize people with that basic human need.”
With winter coming on, Catholic Charities is hoping to avert a greater food shortage by offering people a new way to give: online shopping through Amazon.
“We set up the [Amazon Wishlist] so people can just donate from their couch,” said Pickhinke.
The program rolled out in August and Amazon boxes filled with desperately needed staples are already arriving at the warehouse.
“For people that just can’t make it to a church food drive or can’t get to the store and buy an extra bag,” said Gonzales, “this is an excellent way to get the product to our clients.
“It’s affordable, you save on gas and it saves time!”
The Amazon Wishlist is simple and user-friendly.
“We have a link on our website,” said Pickhinke. “If you click on the link it will take you directly to a list of what we need on Amazon.” (See below)
Once items are purchased, Amazon will deliver the food directly to Hope Distribution Center.
“It allows for a broader range of people to be aware of the need,” said Pickhinke. “If people feel compelled to do something, regardless of where they live, they can contribute.”
Of course if you’re not a couch shopper, you can still drop off groceries directly at a food pantry or at a parish food drive. And monetary donations are always needed.
People supporting the food pantries, whether in person or online, are greatly appreciated.
“We have parishes that host regular food drives,” said Pickhinke. “And I don’t want it to be lost on them that we’re grateful for their continued support.
“And we understand that times are tight.”
Currently, pantries are most in need of proteins, pastas and canned fruits.
They’re also in need of volunteers.
Both Pickhinke and Gonzales ask readers to prayerfully consider donating time to a food pantry or the distribution center.
“Ever since COVID hit, we’ve seen a decrease in volunteers,” said Gonzales. “So any hours they want to give, we’re here with open arms.”
Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Karen Chambers, who volunteers at the food pantry in Overland Park, highly recommends the experience.
“It’s the most rewarding, pleasing thing that I have ever done in my entire life,” she said. “To give to these beautiful people just warms my heart.
“They are grateful, they are thankful. They feel so blessed.”
More than that, Chambers says volunteering at a food pantry is fun.
“We have such a blast,” she said. “We work together; we go out to lunch together.
“Everybody is so kind and loving and giving here.”
How to give online
• To find out how you can get involved with Catholic Charities food drive ministry, click here.
• To shop from Catholic Charities’ Amazon wishlist, click here.
The Amazon website lists foods by greatest needs. Fill your shopping cart, check out and choose the Hope Distribution Center for delivery.
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