In 2018, I was approached by Fort Osage School District Superintendent Dr. Jason Snodgrass about utilizing a soon-to-be vacant building as a way to better support Northeast Independence and Northeast Jackson County families. Fort Osage maintained an Early Childhood Center on US 24 Highway for years, but in January of this year, opened the brand-new Woodland Early Childhood Center. This left the School District with about 5,000 square feet of potential to help its families, outside of the classroom.
In Independence, many public services are in a condensed area in the community's central corridor. As you move east of Lee's Summit Road, and certainly east of 291 Highway, there are fewer and fewer public services. While this may not seem like a big issue, the farther one moves away from services, the less likely one is to access those services, even basic human needs. Accounting for similar incomes, CSL sees fewer families connecting to basic needs, employment, financial, and housing supports the father north and east you travel in Independence. Access is a big deal, and this is affecting families in the Fort Osage School District.
Also in the environment was the fact that Mid-Continent Public Library district voters approved an increase to the Library's levy to enhance access, improve buildings, strengthen collections, and augment services throughout the Library district. The Library is always looking for ways to reach underserved populations throughout the Library district.
After collaborating with Dr. Snodgrass and Steve Potter, Library Director & CEO of Mid-Continent Public Library, a plan was hatched for a public benefit project between CSL, Fort Osage School District, and Mid-Continent Public Library. The School District would retain ownership of the old early education center building and maintain the grounds; the Library would tackle most of the renovations and operate the building as a Library branch; and CSL would run a food pantry operation, with referrals for other basic needs, housing, employment and financial programming. CSL will utilize about 20% of the building, with the balance dedicate for the Library's bevy of services.
This Saturday, May 4, our project is benefiting from the annual Comcast Cares Day. More than 50 local Comcast employees will be rolling up their sleeves to spruce up the new space for the Library and CSL's food pantry. Comcast volunteers will be painting about 5,500 square feet of wall space, and tackling several exterior landscaping and beautification projects. Additionally, they will help fill the shelves of our new food pantry thanks to a Comcast employee food drive.
CSL is grateful to announce that Village Heights Community of Christ will be handling the staffing of the food pantry operation. Volunteers from the congregation will run the pantry, initially, one day a week, and will handle all intake, food box preparation, storage, and help with acquisition.
There will remain much work to be done after Saturday. We expect this new operation to be up and running around August 1, and we think it will be a great resource to families in Northeast Independence and Northeast Jackson County. Stay tuned for updates!