The food distribution service by Roeland Park UMC caught the eye of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids during the congresswoman’s visit on Oct. 9.
“The food insecurity issue is just so huge, and we’ve seen a real explosion of need,” Davids, who lives in Roeland Park, said after meeting the volunteers. “I feel like the faith community is really stepping up during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s heartwarming and something I think we all wish we were on the other side of.”
Davids’ visit came on a day when the church’s food distribution hit a record high – 103 bags of food — although the half-hour she spent in the Roeland Park church and parking lot yielded only one person getting distribution.
The church’s food distribution was a monthly service that helped 20 to 30 families before the pandemic, said the Rev. Bruce Draper, Roeland Park’s pastor since July.
Early in the pandemic, the church received a grant, spearheaded by the Rev. Nancy Pauls, Roeland Park UMC’s previous pastor, to increase the distribution to four hours weekly, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays.
Jan Faidley, a volunteer at the church, is also on the Roeland Park city council.
“We were trying to anticipate the need,” Faidley said. “We knew things were going to get rough for people.”
While the Roeland Park church is in the middle of robust commercial development, Faidley said there were nearby apartment buildings with many front-line and food-service employees who were going to be in need.
“We knew it was going to be challenging for everybody, especially if there was going to be loss of jobs and income,” she said.
When cars pull up to the parking lot entrance of the church, the only questions asked are if the person wants enough for one family or two. License plates from nearby Wyandotte County and Missouri show the distribution goes beyond the Johnson County neighborhood.
Draper said several of the vehicles they see each week appear to have all of the persons’ possessions in them, signifying they’re likely homeless.
Roeland Park, which has about 6,800 people, is down to two churches, Faidley said — the United Methodist Church and a Catholic church on the other side of town.
People were given a grocery bag of dry goods, as well as a $10 gift card from a nearby Aldi grocery store. Pauls wrote the original grant to the Greater Kansas City Foundation to cover the early months of the distribution, and Aldi lets the church buy in bulk to save money.
Members of the church and anyone in the community can donate goods in a box outside the church’s parking lot entrance. Gardeners also donate some of their vegetables, with those in line are asked if they’d like fresh tomatoes or peppers with their orders.
Draper said he’s proud of what the Roeland Park congregation has accomplished.
“The congregation here is really interested in helping the community,” he said. “It has a good mission mindset and has for a long time. A small congregation has challenges sometimes to be effective, but in this particular situation we’ve had strong community backing and community assistance funding, so we’ve been able to make a much larger impact.”
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