by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — She hadn’t even been going out to buy her own groceries.
But that did not stop an unnamed parishioner of Holy Cross Church from summoning her courage and shopping for the parish food drive.
“She felt the need to help these families,” said parish assistant and receptionist Claudia Bustos of the Overland Park Parish.
And when the donor dropped off the groceries, Bustos invited her to come take a look.
“I said, ‘Let me take you downstairs, so you can see what you’re doing,’” said Bustos.
The donor followed her downstairs, then froze.
Then, she burst into tears.
Bustos could sympathize.
“That was my feeling when I came downstairs and saw the tables full of food,” she said.
When, on April 15, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly extended her “stay at home” orders to May 3, Holy Cross organizers knew they had to find a way to help their parishioners in need.
The idea for the food drive originated with Holy Cross parishioner Pat Sheldon.
“I was sitting one day at home,” Sheldon said, “and it dawned on me that the Holy Cross Catholic School children that have the breakfast program and the lunch program don’t have that program anymore.
“Then, I thought, ‘Well, let’s take it a step further.’ So, I contacted Claudia and asked Claudia if we had parishioners in the parish that could really use our help. And, of course, she said, ‘Yes.’”
From there, Bustos, Sheldon and parishioner and volunteer Gayle Pucci got to work.
“The day that our post went up [notifying parishioners of the drive], we started seeing donations,” said Bustos. “It was an overwhelming feeling to see our parishioners’ response to our cry for help for our needy families.”
More than 600 nonperishable food and hygiene items were handed out to 87 Holy Cross families in need April 16 in the church’s Lickteig Hall, thanks to the contributions of their fellow parishioners. The families that were helped averaged four to five people per household.
Even the logistics had been planned well in advance. Families lined up and two people at a time — one per family — came down to Lickteig Hall to pick out items. Each item gave instructions in English and Spanish, letting people know how many of each one they could take.
“We’re hoping that eliminated the touching of stuff. We’re trying to really watch contact and exposure and that type of thing,” Bustos said. “We’re really trying to think the scenario through, so we can protect ourselves and our families.”
Food items included things like macaroni and cheese, pasta, spaghetti sauce, oatmeal and pancake mix.
“The idea was [to provide] things that could go together to make a meal, versus just random items where you have to go pick up other stuff,” Bustos said. “Things that are easy and cost-effective for everyone.”
Hygiene products included toilet paper, hand soap, body soap, toothpaste and laundry detergent.
Along with Holy Cross parishioners, Holy Cross School families benefited from the food drive, as well.
“A lot of our families work in the restaurant industry and are unemployed at this time,” said Melissa Wagner, Holy Cross principal. “We’ve had a lot of change this year, including our online learning program.
“And just seeing our community come together and seeing them help through these uncertain times has been amazing and just solidifies how strong Holy Cross really is. It’s a very unique community.
“I had somebody tell me once that Holy Cross is the hidden jewel of Overland Park,” she added, “and it’s times like these that that statement holds true.”
Sheldon and Wagner said they had high hopes for the drive.
“We were hoping that this [‘stay at home’ order] was going to be coming to an end. And now that we know it’s extended, my hope is that people that are really struggling have an avenue that they can go to and at least receive some food and not have to worry as much about that part of it for a while,” Sheldon said.
Wagner said having the food drive is a humbling experience for families.
“To be able to come to your parish — it is like a family,” she said, “so it is like we are all coming together to help our family.
“And I think this is probably more comfortable for them to come to their home parish rather than another venue that is handing out food donations,” she continued. “I’m just really excited for families to be able to come to Holy Cross and know that we’re all in this together.
“We’re using the term ‘Holy Cross strong,’ so I feel like this is a great example of that.”
All the items that were left at the end of the food drive were donated to Catholic Charities.