by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
Lenexa — On July 16, the heat index here hit 106 degrees.
Overland Park’s Church of the Ascension parishioner Jim Finnegan will tell you it was hotter in the asphalt parking lot of Lenexa’s Hy-Vee.
As a matter of fact, he was beginning to wonder why on earth he’d volunteered to stand outside that afternoon, soliciting donations for Catholic Charities’ Johnson County food pantry.
Then a woman approached him, offering a bag of groceries and some inspiration.
“I went through a miserable divorce 10 years ago,” she said. “I had no money and a baby daughter.
“I had to go to your food pantry, and you guys saved my life.”
She handed Finnegan her donation of groceries.
“You can’t put a value on that,” he said of the encounter.
Donations supply 95 percent of the food distributed by Catholic Charities. And during the summer months, the need escalates.
“Because the food we get in the school programs, we don’t get anymore,” said Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Lee Weigel, who volunteers as manager of the Johnson County pantry.
Weigel came up with the idea of doing food drives at local grocery stores when donations from parishes that support the pantry couldn’t keep up with the need.
“We had one or two stores initially,” he said. “Now we have five.
“All Hy-Vee stores — they’re the only ones that would let us in.”
Rotating between stores, volunteers collect food every Saturday throughout the year. Lenexa’s Hy-Vee is always the third Saturday of the month.
Assisting Finnegan in the scorching heat was Sacred Heart, Shawnee, parishioner Jenny Vesey and her six-year-old daughter Adison.
“It is very hot,” admitted Adison, “but we are working for the people who need food.”
Adison volunteers as a Salvation Army bell ringer with her dad in the winter months.
“She’s used to being out in below-zero weather,” said Vesey. “So this is a good change for her.”
Vesey and her husband are committed to introducing Adison and her two younger brothers to opportunities for charitable giving.
“I think the earlier you get them involved, the more likely they are to help others in the future,” she said.
The heat couldn’t dissipate Adison’s enthusiasm as she handed out lists of food-pantry needs.
And Hy-Vee customers couldn’t resist her winning smile.
“Everybody she hands a list to comes back with a donation!” said Finnegan.
At the second Hy-Vee entrance was another family team: Holy Trinity parishioner Pam Thies and her son Jake.
Thies signed up for the food drive because she wanted to help Jake fulfill his Christian Stewardship requirements at St. James Academy in Lenexa, where he’ll be a freshman this year.
“And I thought I would go out with him,” she said. “Kids learn by example, and I think we need to be good role models for them.
“Hopefully, it’s a lifelong thing we’ll do together.”
Jake admitted he had no idea the temperatures would exceed 100 when he agreed to sign up with his mom.
“But you know the interesting thing is, the more you look like you’re toughing it out here, the more generous people are,” Finnegan told him.
“They’re being very generous,” agreed Jake.
“Some people we don’t even have to give the spiel to,” he added. “They just walk up and say, ‘Hey, what do you guys need today?’”
Holy Trinity parishioners Barb and Steve Loughman did just that.
“They always give you a sheet of paper about things they need,” said Barb. “And I always grab two or three things off the list because, you know what? We have an abundance in comparison to the rest of the world and we need to share.”
The Loughmans’ charitable nature comes with sacrifice. They have nine children, ranging in age from five to 23. Eight are still at home, and Barb is a stay-at-home mom.
Finances are always tight. Yet the family never misses an opportunity to share what they have.
“We may not be wealthy in the eyes of the area we live in,” said Barb. “But in the eyes of the world, even though we have nine children, we’re wealthy.
“It’s tight all around, but there are just so many people less fortunate than we are that surely we can give something when people ask us.
“And when it comes to food, that’s pretty basic.”
Finnegan said families like the Loughmans make volunteering worthwhile — even in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees.
“The first thing all the volunteers would like to say is, ‘Thank you,’” he said.
“Not just to Catholics,” he continued, “but to the community, because the generosity here is unbelievable.”
Weigel, in turn, is grateful to his volunteers.
“We truly have such a group of giving folks,” he said, “giving of their time and suffering out there on the extreme weather days just to make sure our neighbors aren’t going hungry.”
“I think it’s neat just coming out and knowing I’m helping people,” said Thies. “We’re just sharing a little bit of God’s love that’s in all of us.”