by Michaela Kinyon
Special to The Leaven
HORTON — Nearly 400,000 people in Kansas are living in poverty.
But churches like St. Leo Parish in Horton are lending a hand to alleviate the suffering.
For over 15 years, churches within the South Brown County Ministerial Association have come together to run a food pantry for locals in need.
Six churches participate, and each one is in charge of the pantry for two months out of the year. St. Leo takes its turn in June and December under the leadership of parishioner Betty Bunck.
Bunck, a retiree and longtime member of the parish, has been leading the operation of the pantry for 15 years, alongside several other volunteers.
“Well, I’m retired and the church asked me to do it,” said Bunck. “I have time.”
According to Bunck, there are no budget requirements for those who come to the pantry.
They do have to fill out an application, however, and are issued a card to show the volunteers when they arrive.
“We want to verify that we’re feeding the kids we think we’re feeding,” said Bunck.
“But there’s a need for this service, and we don’t judge,” she added.
The food pantry feeds between 120 and 130 families each month, with 127 families fed this past June.
The pantry is open nine days a month on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons. Food and proceeds are collected from a variety of sources, including Second Harvest in St. Joseph, Missouri, the local Walmart and area churches.
St. Leo is no exception when it comes to giving.
“The parish is so generous,” said Betty Robison, a parishioner at St. Leo.
Along with monetary donations, St. Leo parishioners donate produce from their gardens and eggs in the summer. They also collect food during Advent every year, and were able to give a turkey to every family in need last Christmas.
But none of the pantry’s success could be done without the dedication of volunteers like Bunck.
Approximately one month before it’s time to start preparing the pantry, Bunck places a clipboard at the back of the church for parishioners to sign up.
Volunteers range anywhere from retirees to high school students, she said.
If there are leftover slots available, Bunck starts making calls.
“When Grandma Betty calls, we come,” said parishioner Mary Beth McLenon.
Father Dan Gardner, pastor of St. Leo and St. Ann Church in Hiawatha, volunteers every week at the pantry and is grateful for Bunck’s commitment and understanding of those in need.
“She has great insight on who receives these food packages,” he said.
In a town as small as Horton, where the population is approximately 1,700, the work of local churches is crucial.
For Bunck, the countless hours of hard work are worth it.
“It’s a corporal work of mercy,” she said. “Christ said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.’”
“There is no one who comes in for help that doesn’t need it,” Bunck said. “And that alone makes you want to go on.”