Mission holiday adoption program partners with Harvesters to offer year-round assistance

Volunteers with the Mission Holiday Adoption Program participated in two Harvesters food pantry events like this one in August in the parking lot of SM North. Photo courtesy of Arcie Rothrock.

Volunteers with the city of Mission’s holiday adoption program, which is primarily in full swing each winter in northeast Johnson County, have continued serving the community through Harvesters programming this summer.

Over the history of the program, volunteers are busiest each Thanksgiving and Christmas, providing meals and gifts to underserved families during the wintertime. But after volunteering for the first time this summer at two Harvesters food pantry events, the group has decided to continue serving throughout the year.

Suzie Gibbs, the former longtime councilmember who coordinates programming and events for the Mission Family Adoption Program, said the outpouring of donations and free labor has demonstrated the growing need for this kind of programming year-round. The program needs a different name, but no official rebranding is underway yet, she added.

“It just seems like we’re getting other people calling me during the year wanting to know if we can help them financially,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that need it, and I just want to get the word out. I want to get the word to the people.”

Gibbs decided to coordinate a new volunteer effort by members of the adoption program to package donations for Harvesters food pantry events to the area this summer. By doing so, donations to Harvesters food bins at local grocery stores like Mission Hy-Vee were distributed to local families.

“There’s a need here in Mission, and there’s a need in northeast Johnson County,” she said.

The first Harvesters Mobile Distribution event coordinated by the adoption program volunteers took place in May in the parking lot of Shawnee Mission North. Gibbs said she was thrilled about its success, with 7 tons of food distributed to nearly 100 vehicles coming through the pantry.

“I put the word out, and everybody just came out of the woodwork,” she said. “They all wanted to do it. It was so gratifying. It’s a team effort and it’s a city effort. It’s a northeast effort.”

During the second Harvesters in August, more than 6 tons of food were distributed. An average-sized family of five received about 190 pounds of food.

Mission Councilwoman Arcie Rothrock, who volunteers for the program, said the volunteers saw firsthand the appreciation and need of local families who received food at the Harvesters events.

“People will line up in the line at 5 and 6 in the morning, and sometimes the event doesn’t start until 9,” Rothrock said. “These people are so patient. They are so thankful. Some of them look prepared to grovel, and we really don’t want that. We just want to make sure they’re in and out and they have what they need.”

Nearly all of the families who received donations live in the 66205 and 66202 ZIP codes, which touch Fairway, Mission, Mission Hills, Overland Park, Roeland Park, Westwood and Westwood Hills. Some refugee families who live in the area also came to receive food.

“We actually ended up taking someone’s car and loading them up with their groceries and driving them home, because we’re not going to make them walk home,” Rothrock said. “I could never imagine asking someone to do that. I feel like their expectations were exceeded tremendously. It was just a good feeling.”

Gibbs said Harvesters will also partner with the Mission Holiday Adoption Program’s winter events this year. Plus, gearing up for this holiday season, the program will host its first ever fundraiser, a pig roast Oct. 27.

The pig roast charity event includes a silent auction and 50/50 raffle and is sponsored by The Welstone at Mission Crossing, Johnny’s BBQ and Sandhills Brewing. Tickets are $25 each.

Gibbs said TurnStyles in Mission is also contributing to the Thanksgiving program by giving every participating family a 25% off coupon.

“This is wishing, and it would take a lot of work, but it would be great if we could have 150 to 200 cars go through, and just barrels of food, and the community come out,” Gibbs said, adding that she wants each family to feel welcomed and included in the community. “I would like to see everybody just get excited. It just warms my heart to see how these people react and how they just are so thankful.”