More than 400 community members turned out for Mattie Rhodes Center’s annual Holiday Gift Giveaway at its Northeast location at 148 N. Topping on Saturday.
Kansas City organizations with resources, crafts and food to share gathered at the center to serve Mattie Rhodes’ clients. The Kansas City Current – the city’s professional women’s soccer team – the North-East branch of the Kansas City Public Library, the Kansas City Fire Department, and Start at Zero – a nonprofit that partners with parents and caregivers to promote healthy early childhood development for children prenatal to age 5 – were stationed in the parking lot to meet families.
“Downstairs, we’ve got the Jackson County Health Department, along with Swope Health and vaccinations, as well as KC Digital Drive – information on how people can get help if they need to pay for their internet connections – and then, of course, we’ve got all these toys that we’ve got for our kids, food and other arts and other holiday activities,” said Scott Wagner, director of Mattie Rhodes’ Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT).
Wagner said it’s an opportunity for kids to have a fun holiday season, but also for the families to get some important resources and support.
Mattie Rhodes staff and volunteers saw a steady stream of visitors all day, keeping them warm with hot chocolate, coffee, tamales and more. Although they planned to cap the event at 300, they ended up serving more than 489 individuals, 324 of them youth.
Swope Health employees, who were administering flu shots, know the importance of getting out in the community and meeting people where they are.
“Instead of having patients in the community come to us, we like to go to the community, and have a presence in their neighborhoods, in their areas,” Swope Health representative Emily said. “We love community events, just coming out and representing not only our organizations but being there for our community.”
Swope Health representative Chris recommends getting the flu shot and a COVID booster before the holidays to make seeing family safer, especially protecting the pediatric and elderly populations.
Mattie Rhodes Youth Development Coordinator and the primary organizer of the event, Anthony Rea, was one of the first in line to receive his flu shot.
“This is our annual holiday gift giveaway, and now vaccination event,” Rea said. “Last year we included the vaccination event, but we’ve been doing the event, I would say, for the past six, seven years.”
What started as a sit-down breakfast and evolved into a drive-thru during COVID, is now an outdoor walk-up event. This year, they’re also offering free food, hot beverages and art activities.
“We have some guest organizations present with us today, and then all the students, all the young people who registered with their families can select a free gift to take with them,” Rea said. “It’s just to have additional resources. I mean, the importance of having more information and knowing what’s out there is always critical. Sometimes we just don’t know. Who has time all the time to research something? If agencies like Mattie Rhodes can help bring not just what we do, but what other people are doing, I think it becomes really important for families to have access to that information.”
Rea knows it’s important, though sometimes difficult, to provide language access to everyone they serve.
“It’s hard, you know, but I mean when we can – and whether it’s ourselves or other organizations – I think it is just important for those families and those individuals to be able to connect in that way,” Rea said. “I think language is so important, and it’s so scary, I think – I mean, when I don’t understand something, it’s scary – so being able to have someone to talk to you in a language that you understand, that you’re fluent in, and that you communicate mostly in, is important.”
Mattie Rhodes works hard to build trust within the neighborhoods they serve, and many people have come to rely on the nonprofit for resources and community.
“We have some partners out there, obviously like the fire department is out there, things that we’re doing, Alea Surender, who actually coordinates all the vaccination events we’ve been doing for the past two years, and just our regular programs, our young people are coming back with their parents to come do this,” Rea said. “Old students who haven’t been back returned for this. There’s a lot of really fun connections that are maintained.”
Rea has worked at Mattie Rhodes in a variety of roles since 2015, but he’s been in Northeast since 2018. As one of two Youth Development Coordinators, along with Hector “Moy” Solorio, he plans and hosts events, and works with youth and young adult services.
“[This is] the most that we’ve served, ever, a little scary,” Rea said. “Some last minute shopping took place last night to make some things happen.”
Solorio, who manages Soccer for Success at Mattie Rhodes, loves watching the kids – whose families are from all over Latin America – get excited about the World Cup.
“There’s a lot of excitement we have,” Solorio said. “The cool part about being in the Northeast is that you get to interact with people from all parts of the world. When there’s a sport involved, a country that you get to choose, that you support. It makes it even more exciting.”
Mattie Rhodes’ recreational programming for youth is available three to five times per week, and also on Saturdays to allow parents to join their kids.
Leslie Scott with KC Digital Drive shared internet access support programs with visitors. The federal Affordable Connectivity Program through the FCC can help connect families and households that are struggling to afford internet service.
“We help people get free internet for six months,” Scott said. “It’s not like we don’t have internet service providers, it’s whatever provider they have now or would choose. There’s a federal program and this is our local program. So [they provide] a $30 a month discount, and then we can help pay the difference for six months.”
More information is available at acpbenefit.org or kcdigitaldrive.org.
Mariana Ramírez, along with a physician from Venezuela, a medical student originally from Mexico, and others from KU Medical Center represented Juntos, the center for advancing Latino health.
“We focus on Latino health, and we have different programs we are offering today,” Ramírez said. “We are doing blood pressure and glucose, but also we are letting people know about genetic testing. We have a partnership with KU Cancer Center and KC CARE, and people who might be at risk of inheriting cancer can have an appointment with a genetic counselor, and if they need testing, if they choose to have testing that’s covered by this program at no cost to the participants.”
They also have funding from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to provide a text based program for caregivers of people with dementia.
“Latinos are more likely to become caregivers of people with dementia and less likely to use external resources, so we have a six-month program that provides support via text message,” Ramírez said. “They get daily text messages with education, testimonials, motivation, but they can also interact with a counselor, so if they need diapers, a walking cane, things like that, they can contact them about that.”
She knows many of the people they engaged with Saturday are not engaged with a primary care provider.
“This is the only way we can engage with them and learn about their needs and then connect them with resources that they need,” Ramírez said. “And we’re all bilingual so we can interact in English and Spanish.”
Mattie Rhodes hosts impactful events and shares necessary resources with Northeast families throughout the year. To stay up to date on their latest events, follow them on Facebook @mattierhodes.org.