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It takes just a click to feed the need

Food pantry volunteers are busy stocking shelves before clients come to shop. Here, Church of the Ascension, Overland Park, parishioner Nancy Shomburg makes sure there are plenty of canned vegetables for clients to choose from. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

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.”

Volunteer Christy Mauro (right), a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Overland Park, helps a client at the food pantry make a nutritious food choice. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

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.”

An empty shelf meant for canned fruit is seen at a Catholic Charities’ food pantry. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

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!”

Bins where fresh vegetables are meant to go are seen empty at a Catholic Charities food pantry. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

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.

Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas is always in need of volunteers and donations. See below for how you can help. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

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.”

Karen Chambers, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, says volunteering at the Catholic Charities Food Pantry in Overland Park is both “rewarding and fun.” LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

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.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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