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United Way Blog

United Way Greater Kansas City: Nourishing Community in the Face of Crisis

James Martin is retired. But instead of sitting on a relaxing beach, he spends many days volunteering at Cross-Lines Community Market in Kansas City, KS. "It's a blessing to help others," James said. But the market isn't just a place where he gives back. It's also a place where he comes to receive food assistance. The 66-year-old lives with diabetes and shared that the cost of his medications has tripled in the past year. Pricey prescriptions and soaring grocery, gas, and utility costs have wiped away his limited Social Security and retirement income. So, he recently had to get a part-time job as a bus driver to make ends meet.  "It's tough. The costs of my medicine and food at the store have just gotten to be outrageous," James said. "I'm glad I can come to the pantry and get some healthy food to help me get by." The food pantry provides fresh produce boxes for seniors every month, a vital resource for them to eat nutritious meals that keep their health in check. 

Cross-Lines Community Market in Kansas City, Kan., is a unique food pantry that gives neighbors dignity in their time of need. The market is set up like a grocery store. Shoppers are allocated a set amount of points based on household size to select items they need. The market has a wide array of household goods shelf-stable food items, along with meats, dairy, and fresh produce.  "I think it's wonderful. I grab a basket, go up and down each aisle, shop and pick up what I need," said pantry visitor Eloise Harris of Kansas City, Kan. 

The organization receives annual funding from United Way of Greater Kansas City (UWGKC) as part of its Impact 100, a group of organizations identified each year by UWGKC as meeting the community's most critical health and human service needs. "The support of United Way means so much. When you give, you help us a lot," said Cross-Lines hunger relief director Marlen Hernandez. "Keeping enough items in stock gets really expensive and we have to pay for it with funds from United Way or other donations and grants to ensure there's enough produce, milk and meats for everyone that comes through our doors." 

 And meeting that demand has been exceptionally challenging over the past few years. Before the COVID pandemic, Cross-Lines served about 200 families a month at its food pantry. At the height of the pandemic, it recorded more than 1,000 families needing groceries from the pantry in a month. Today, as inflation pinches many family budgets, Cross-Lines continues to see incredibly high demand, with 600-800 families visiting monthly, many identifying as first-time visitors.   

"Everything's pretty expensive right now," said first-time pantry visitor Mayra Maciel. "So this is truly a lot of help, knowing that there's something that's going to help us when we don't have the money to buy food for the kids." The crushing demand for food assistance is not unique to Cross-Lines. UWGKC also partners with Harvesters—The Community Food Network in Kansas City, Mo., as part of its Impact 100. The organization is the regional Feeding America food bank, serving 26 counties in the Kansas-Missouri region. Demand across its network remains roughly 20 percent higher than before the pandemic. 

Across the region, 1 in 11 neighbors face food insecurity—meaning they don't know where their next meal will come from. Inquiries about food assistance are consistently in the top five most frequent requests taken byUWGKC's 211 community resource navigators. "It hits home," said a loyal Harvesters volunteer, Debbie Ruth. "You don't think about your neighbors not having enough to eat. But yet they're there. You almost want to cry because it's so meaningful—what Harvesters does, and what all the volunteers do, it is so very important." Adding to the crisis, escalating food prices and supply chain issues have made it tougher for pantries to keep their shelves stocked with enough food to service everyone in need. "The food goes out just as fast as it comes in," said Brian Fry, Harvesters director of acquisitions. 

This year, UWGKC expanded its long-standing partnership with local food pantries to ensure shelves could stay stocked when resources are desperately needed. Supplemental grants totaling $450,000 were made available to 36 regional partners on the front lines of fighting hunger. "We understand that access to food provides a critical foundation for pillars of our health, education, and financial stability," said Todd Jordan, Ph.D., Vice President of Community Impact and Executive Director of 211 at United Way of Greater Kansas City. "United Way has partnered with dozens of pantries across the metropolitan area to meet the basic needs of people experiencing hunger. This funding represents a continuation of that commitment." 

A recent study from the Urban Institute finds that 25 percent of American households are food insecure. Increased grocery costs have driven many to need charitable food donations. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted. Added funding is critical to ensuring neighbors in need can continue to access fresh meats, produce, and culturally appropriate foods at pantries in their communities.  

United Way of Greater Kansas City is committed to making an ongoing meaningful impact for neighbors struggling with food insecurity. No family, child, or senior should ever go without meals. Giving time, money, or voice to advocating for hunger relief can make a significant impact through your local United Way and its partners.