By Tatum Goetting, Editorial Assistant
A red ribbon spread across the entry door of Grace United Community Ministries on June 5 as the organization held a grand re-opening for the newly renovated building, which included a new food pantry and other rooms stocked with products like toilet paper and diapers.
The pantry at 811 Benton Blvd. had to temporarily close in February of this year to refurbish and repair the nearly 100-year-old building, Grace United Board Chair Max Sherman said.
“[The renovation] was long overdue,” Sherman said. “Any facility that serves the public should look warm, welcoming, well-maintained. It should be something both staff are proud to work in and clients are happy to visit; it just did not meet that standard at all.”
Amy Graves, a volunteer in charge of the community garden, said the renovation had been in the works since March. Graves said construction consisted of retiling, repainting, putting in new baseboards and new stairs.
Executive Director and CEO of Grace United Jesse Barnes said the COVID-19 pandemic increased the amount of food being distributed to the community.
“We definitely wanted to have a place that gave people dignity and an area that had options for people,” Barnes said. “We didn’t want to turn people away.”
Barnes said since the pandemic, there had been larger families and more people without housing than the organization had seen in the past.
Grace United volunteers continued to serve community members who were food insecure with sack lunches even when the building closed for renovations.
“[When the building was closed] we provided families with groceries and lunches on a case-by-case basis,” Barnes said. “Many people were calling, so those were scheduled. We also just had people who happened to walk by during our hours and we made food available for them as well.”
Mayor Quinton Lucas attended the event and helped cut the symbolic ribbon alongside Sherman, Barnes and Food Pantry and Clothes Closet Coordinator Archie Johnson.
“All the money in the world wouldn’t make the difference for your time, commitment and love for this community,” Lucas said to the crowd. “We have a lot of needs in Kansas City; you all are taking a big step in addressing [them].”
Sherman said a main goal of Grace United is the advancement of children’s education in the Northeast Kansas City area.
“What Grace is able to do for the kids that we tutor, rather than the schools being the opportunities for the kids, we bring the opportunity to the kids,” Sherman said. “It helps set the foundation of a decent public education. My volunteers, myself included, do this for the kids.”
Barnes said Northeast Kansas City will receive more support from the community by helping those in need.
“We want to ensure that our place is a place of refuge and provides great food,” Barnes said. “We will always appreciate food donations, canned or dry goods as well as financial support, whether it’s small or large. It all helps our organization.”