by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “I love to cook and I love to give,” said Joanna Marin as she poured homemade salsa into bowls at Shalom House Men’s Transitional Living Program here.
“And I love seeing the smiles on their faces,” she added.
The Shalom House meal ministry is one of the most satisfying outreach opportunities available through Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
It’s easy, fun and extremely rewarding. Volunteers simply prepare a meal for the men living at the facility that includes a main dish, side and dessert.
Meals can be prepared off-site and dropped off, or any part of the meal can be prepared in the Shalom House kitchen. Volunteers can stay to serve and socialize.
The well-stocked industrial kitchen is a chef’s dream. And the residents of Shalom House are the perfect recipients of any cook’s efforts — they’re hungry and grateful.
On top of that, residents are eager to help out and always do the cleanup.
“It is fun because the men are so appreciative,” said Tom Farmer. “I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked more than when I come here.
“They’ve been through a lot and they’re just so grateful for anything they get.”
Farmer is a member of Olathe’s Prince of Peace Knights of Columbus. The group has been on the meal ministry schedule at Shalom House for many years.
This evening’s repast was tacos with all the fixings and a side of Spanish rice. For dessert, Farmer made his famous sopapilla cheesecake bars.
He was assisted by fellow Knights Tom Keegan and Oscar Horn. Marin joined the group to see if the meal ministry might be a volunteer opportunity for her women’s faith group.
“It’s an incredible ministry,” said Farmer. “The Knights always dedicate some money to this cause. We buy ingredients, make a dinner, bring it over, cook it, serve it and visit with the men.
“But if you look at the sign-up right now, most nights go unfilled. So, it’s important that we get more groups to participate.”
When Shalom House closed during the COVID pandemic and to renovate its new facility, it lost many of its meal ministers. Now Catholic Charities is trying to get the word out about this opportunity to serve the community.
Cooper Eitel, a seminarian from St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, is currently on mission at Shalom House. When volunteers provide a meal, he sees how much it lifts the men’s spirits.
“Most of the food here is sent over from the food pantry,” he said. “And so, it just means there’s not a ton of selection and the guys are eating the same things throughout the week.
“It is so appreciated to get some new variety and some food that’s healthier.”
The men at Shalom House often come from difficult circumstances, but they go through vigorous screening and are working to become independent and productive.
“These are men who are going through the process of transitioning back into society,” explained Catholic Charities volunteer engagement manager Kathleen Currie. “They’re people who are really choosing to live a better life.
“They just need help getting there.”
Meal ministers who choose to stay and share dinner support that process.
“Serving the meal and getting to know the men I think is the most special part of the dinner ministry,” said Currie. “That’s where these men are going to make connections and gain a lot of those social skills they’re seeking.”
There are approximately 13 men presently living at the facility. Program director Tenesha Williams is hoping to get them more healthy home-cooked meals.
“We have some men here who struggle with diet,” she said. “They have diabetes, high blood pressure, things of that nature because of their situation being out on the street, homeless.
“A lot of our guys have made improvements to their health just being here, so we want to maintain that.”
The meal ministry is a fun and satisfying way to give back to the community.
“What we do with our time can bring us closer to Christ,” said Currie. “I truly believe the greatest benefit someone will get out of doing the meal ministry is giving another person in need the gift of their time.
“It’s a chance for the men to connect with people. Ultimately, that’s where community is formed.
“We learn so much about each other when we all sit down and eat together.”
Shalom House meal ministry
Shalom House is located at 2601 Ridge in Kansas City, Kansas. The property is secluded and very safe. Meal ministers are greeted by staff, and residents are eager to help them in any way they can.
Meals can be dropped off or prepared and served on the premises. Ministers are encouraged, but not required, to eat with the residents.
No one under the age of 18 is allowed on the property. However, young people can earn 2-½ service hours by helping prepare a meal off-site and have it delivered by an adult.
If you are interested in preparing a meal for Shalom House residents, visit the website at: catholiccharitiesks.org/shalom-house and click the “Meal Ministry” sign-up button for guidelines.