By John Sharp
A spokesperson for the nonprofit organization Catholic Charities has announced the independent organization has reached an agreement with the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for it to purchase the closed St. Matthew Apostle Catholic Church at 8001 Longview Rd. for use as a Serve & Lift center contingent on city zoning approval.
Speaking at the November 17 meeting of the Southern Communities Coalition, Catholic Charities Chief Executive Officer Karen Noel said the organization hopes to get city approval to utilize the 10-acre site as a master planned development. That will assure neighbors the site could not be used in the future for incompatible uses such as commercial development unless the city approves an amendment to the plan.
Leaders of the adjacent Kirkside and Ruskin Heights Homes Associations at the meeting all voiced support for the plan, and nobody in the audience objected to it. These organizations previously had voiced strong objections to using the site for commercial development, and Noel said her organization would not include any commercial development of the site.
Noel said she hopes Catholic Charities will be able to move into the church before the end of the year. She said it will operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the site, Monday-Thursday.
“We plan to be here for a very, very long time,” she said.
She said Catholic Charities will initially focus primarily on food distribution and providing emergency services such as rent and utility assistance and diapers and other personal hygiene items to needy families in the area and will seek to coordinate its services with those of other nonprofit agencies in the area that provide similar services such as the Community Assistance Council.
As the organization settles into its new site which will replace a temporary center at nearby St. Catherine of Siena Parish, it intends to expand its services to include workforce development and job referral, financial literacy and budgeting instruction, parenting education, senior services and case management.
A long-term goal, Noel said, would be to provide housing on the large site for low income seniors and disabled persons.
A survey of the community for the organization indicated housing was the top concern with persons worried about evictions and utility shutoffs, followed by the need for help with family relationships such as parenting education and domestic violence prevention, and employment including the need for living wage jobs, workforce development and job placement.
Following these three areas, there was a tie between concerns about food insecurity and the need for assistance with developing financial literacy such as debt management and budgeting instruction.
Noel said Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph serves a 27-county area in west-central Missouri, but 85 percent of all its services are provided in Jackson County and Buchanan County where the city of St. Joseph is located. Another Lift & Serve center recently was approved for the town of Cameron to serve the northern part of its area.