‘The need is there’ — Lenexa church’s food pantry has served 1,000 during pandemic

Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa has launched a food pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic to serve families who are food insecure.

In response to the growing crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, a Lenexa church has launched a food pantry with Harvesters Community Food Network.

The Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa is serving local families through its new food pantry, which provides non-perishable items and produce from the church’s Hope Harvest Garden, along with hygiene items.

Yvonne Gibbons, a church volunteer who helped start the pantry, said the concept had been in the works for about a year. However, the pandemic spurred the church to act more quickly to get it up and running in order to serve families during the resultant economic shutdown.

“We just knew that it was time,” Gibbons said. “We were hearing more and more about the percentage of people who are suffering, people who are hungry and Johnson County was not exempt in that at all.”

The food pantry has already served at least 1,000 people since the church launched it in July.

“We believe that service is our prayer. We’re especially happy to serve now when the need is so high.”

Food insecurity in Johnson County on the rise

The launch of the food pantry this summer came as food insecurity, defined as a household’s inability to provide enough food for all members of that household, was growing in Johnson County during the pandemic.

Nonprofit Feeding America projects that food insecurity in Johnson County has risen to roughly 13.6% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, up from 9% in 2018.

“What I hear from the people that come through is how grateful they are that we are here,” Gibbons said. “That tells me that there is certainly a need. There’s lots of food pantries that are providing the same sorts of food items to support people in Johnson County. The need is certainly there, and it’s certainly grown from when we first started.”

Items are pre-packaged and placed in shoppers’ vehicles for now. Church volunteers plan to turn the food pantry into an indoor walk-through operation once the temperatures drop.

Gibbons said they serve about 32 families each week since they launched the pantry in July. In total, about 1,000 individuals have come through the pantry, which is currently drive-through due to the pandemic. Items are pre-packaged and loaded into recipients’ vehicles in grocery bags.

Eventually, the church plans to change the pantry into a walk-through operation in which shoppers can choose their items.

The pantry is on the south side of the church at 9400 Pflumm Road and is open 3-6 p.m. each Tuesday. Pantry shoppers will be greeted by a volunteer, who will ask for their name and household size. Volunteers won’t ask for other identification or proof of residency.

“We have a lot of people that return, and we’re glad to see them because they obviously have some food insecurity,” Gibbons said.

The pantry, which takes donations online, occupies portions of the space shared by Project 1020, a cold-weather shelter that will open for winter in December. When operations move indoors, Gibbons said they will expect everyone to wear masks and practice physical distancing to keep everyone safe.

Church officials say the food pantry may move to appointment-only pick up in order to space out families.