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Catholic outreach serves Cedar Rapids area community

Food pantry serves about 100 families each week

Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9 TV9

Volunteer Polly Hudecek of Cedar Rapids picks items off the shelf to fill a food package for a family at Metro Catholic Outreach in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.
Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9 TV9 Volunteer Polly Hudecek of Cedar Rapids picks items off the shelf to fill a food package for a family at Metro Catholic Outreach in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.

Barb Kane hopes to one day work herself out of a job.

As the director of Metro Catholic Outreach, she looks forward to that day that no one calls to request food or financial assistance — the two main programs of the social justice outreach organization.

“I’d like us to work ourselves out of business,” she said. “It will be nice the day no one calls for food.”

Metro Catholic Outreach was created two years ago when the 11 Catholic parishes in town decided to collaborate on their outreach services. Kane was hired as the director and helped establish the office, located in the Sister Mary Lawrence Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. She said the effort adopted the best practices from the churches and developed them into a unified Catholic social justice response.

“This is outreach of the Catholic community to the greater metro area,” Kane said, noting that those who seek their services need not be Catholic. “We are a community agency born from the Catholic outreach. Our goal is to give what we can and reach as many people as we can.”

Kane worked previous for the food bank at St. Pius X Parish and at Helping Hands Ministry in their financial assistance program. “I kind of built myself into the position,” she said. “It was a niche that I had experience with direct service in both the food pantry and financial assistance.”

The food pantry serves about 100 families per week, who register ahead of time to receive a food box. “There are no qualifications. If you say you need food, we’ll give you food.” Kane said, adding that they do restrict distributions to one per household per month.

Kane said she is constantly in awe of how the food donations come in. “Sometimes I go home and hope the food will come in before it has to go out,” she said.

“It’s a real loaves and fishes experience for me,” she said. “I leave on Friday and the pantry is empty. I come in Monday and the food is here.”

All the Catholic parishes make regular contributions, as well as individuals. “You think when you are bringing a can of food to church that it might not be making a difference but it is.”

Metro Catholic Outreach also receives donations from Quaker Oats, General Mills, Panera and Great Harvest Bread Company, as well as a local CSA program throughout the summer.

“We never have to worry about cereal,” Kane said. “But I wish we had the same connections for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and eggs.”

Metro Catholic Outreach also offers financial assistance — offering up to $200 toward rent or utilities for one-time emergencies. “We take appointments to meet with clients seeking assistance for each week over the phone on Monday mornings,” Kane said. “By 9:02 a.m. we are full for the week.”

While she’s technically a part-time staffer, Kane works full-time hours to keep the outreach running smoothly. She also has the help of a part-time food pantry manager. Otherwise she relies on the help of volunteers, she said, to carry out the day-to-day work.

She handles all the organization’s operations, including overseeing the work of volunteers, managing the food pantry, and handling all the fundraising and grant writing. She does outreach to other community groups and reports regularly to all of the parishes who support Metro Catholic Outreach.

“We currently have about 100 active volunteers,” she said. “And working with them is awesome.”

Kane said she also enjoys watching the collaborative nature of her work. “Watching all the churches work together is great,” she said. “This is very satisfying work. We are quick help to people, and we are happy to be serving as much as we are. We have brief contact with our clients, but we can touch a life so quickly and make a difference. ”In the future, Kane said she hopes Metro Catholic Outreach can start offering some community education programs, working through partnerships. “It’s great if we can get the same person food month after month, but if we can’t help get them to the next level than are we really doing what we need to do.”

Know a manager or company in business for more than a year that would be ideal for “My Biz”? Contact Chelsea Keenan at Chelsea.keenan@sourcemedia.net

Name: Barb Kane

Title: Director

Company: Metro Catholic Outreach

Address: 420 Sixth St SE, Cedar Rapids

Phone: (319) 739-5490

Website: www.metrocatholicoutreach.org

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