Downtown Outreach: Fighting Hunger in Downtown Kansas City

by Rev. Jerry Grabher and Clare Murphy Shaw

Downtown Outreach, a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, is an all-volunteer program providing a hot meals and sacks of groceries each Saturday to the homeless and resident poor in the metro Kansas City Metro area since June 1992.  St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, at 1307 Holmes in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, shares its licensed commercial kitchen facilities for meal preparation, provides administrative support, and offers pantry storage for Downtown Outreach.  Its parishioners provide food, donations, and many of the volunteers who help Downtown Outreach to do its work of feeding the hungry.  Downtown Outreach is also funded through grants from the Dunn Family Foundation and the William T. Kemper Foundation.

Each week the congregation of St. Mary’s, along with other donors, brings an array of can goods for the pantry. Downtown Outreach also purchases food from Harvesters.  Volunteers gather on Saturday mornings to fill the sack of groceries and prepare the meal. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Parish Hall of St. Mary’s. Families come from across the metro area to enjoy the hot lunch prepared for them and to take home their food for the week.   The volunteers stay to clean up after the meal.

Folks from all walks of life come each Saturday.  A typical Downtown Outreach patron is Beulah.  Beulah has lived alone since her husband, a World War II veteran, died ten years ago.  She survives on $669 in social security each month, but at 82 years old, the cost for her heart and high blood pressure medication come to more than $300 a month. “I bought what I needed, not what I wanted,” she explains, “and it wasn’t much.  I had my health insurance, my utility bills, and my telephone bill to pay.   I used to pay for just a portion of my medicine so I’d have enough left over for food.  There were a lot of foods that I needed to stay healthy, but I only bought what I could afford.” When Beulah found out that she qualified to receive food from the food pantry, her life changed dramatically. “I couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store and buy what I get from the food pantry.   I’d have to dish out a hundred dollars.  I’d never be able to make it!”

Since the program’s inception, Downtown Outreach has served 169,509 meals, and has distributed 6,8629 sacks of groceries.   Presently there are 9420 family units in the database, 201 homeless, 335 individuals, and 406 families representing 1,015 individuals — or 15,513 total individuals.  With the recession, lay-offs, home foreclosures, and bankruptcies, the Downtown Outreach program is a real blessing for needy folks living the Kansas City Metro Area.

Procuring the canned goods it needs to provide grocery bags to all who come to receive has proved challenging.  Agencies that purchase food from Harvesters have experienced a 40 percent increase in the number of people coming to them for assistance, and the need continues to grow.   As a result, Harvesters expects to distribute over 38 million pounds of food in 2010, which will cost the food bank at least $5 million dollars.  Harvesters cannot always meet the food needs of the community.  For this reason, Downtown Outreach seeks to encourage more individual donations of canned goods – preferably protein items or vegetables – as well as breakfast cereal, rice, pasta, beans, or canned fruit.  The more direct food donations it receives, the less it has to purchase from Harvesters or grocery stores.

In a culture that glorifies rugged independence and individualism, it is refreshing to find a group of people who remembers that none of us does it alone.   “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” —Winston Churchill.

For more information about how to support Downtown Outreach, please visit


1 Comment »

  1. Leland Riffel said

    I would like to donate some sausage,cheese and crackers for a food snack platter.
    When may I deliver it?
    please call at 913 897 3854

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