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Goal for new resource is to complete missions, not compete with agencies

This story originally appeared in the Jefferson City News Tribune. Read the full story online: News Tribune Website

The new home for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri is rapidly nearing completion. Catholic Charities Executive Director Dan Lester on Thursday gave a tour of the new facility to a handful of Jefferson City health care Joe Gamm May. 30 2021 @ 12:05amstory.lead_photo.captionLiv Paggiarino/News Tribune Catholic Charities Executive Director Dan Lester and Michelle Bard chat while touring the progress of the new Catholic Charities building on Thursday.

The new home for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri is rapidly nearing completion.

And administrators of the nonprofit have been inviting area health and social service stakeholders to come through and take a look at the site and begin considering how it might fit with their own missions.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Dan Lester on Thursday gave a tour of the new facility to a handful of Jefferson City health care providers.

The building at 1015 Edmonds St. is being prepared to become a center for charity in the central Jefferson City community, Lester told listeners. It isn’t intended to compete with other agencies but is intended to complete them, he continued.

“If we have some resources we can bring to bear so that your team doesn’t have to have space in your offices, so you have to have a pantry (or other resources), let us do that for you,” Lester said. “You can have that space back to do the things you want to do.”

For example, he continued, if the Community Health Center for Central Missouri or Cole County Health Department or another agency were to discharge a client who they knew would struggle with food insecurity, they could place an order for pantry food with Catholic Charities, which could deliver it to the agency, drop it at the client’s home or prepare it for pickup at Catholic Charities.

Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell offered that she could see her organization connecting its Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program clients participating in a collaboration with Catholic Charities. The county department is in a contract with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, allowing it to provide the WIC program to more than 1,650 clients each month.

Lester said a large area on the lowest level of the building was once an auditorium with a basketball court. That has been divided up, with the majority of it being prepared as a self-select or “choice” food pantry.

It will be set up like a market.

“People will be able to come in, get a cart, and walk through and shop,” Lester said. “It’s a ‘best practice.’ It tends to cut down on waste.”

That way, he said, at the end of the day, you don’t walk outside and find a dumpster filled with foods people threw out.

The charity will include Smart-Choice online food pantry software. SmartChoice is inventory and online ordering software. Clients may be able to shop using a point system. Given 1,000 points, they may spend those points as they choose between items. One example, Lester said, was that if the pantry receives sheet cakes, those may require more points to “purchase” than healthier items, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Clients can get online and order from your pantry, just like they can order from Schnucks,” Lester said. “What that allows us to do is maintain that ‘choice’ model, even if they can’t make it into the pantry — if they’re home-bound or if they’re busy working.”

There’s a perception, sometimes, that people who need services are unemployed, he said, which is totally not true.

“Most of the people we serve are working families — sometimes with two or three jobs,” he said. “If there is a working mom who needs help from a pantry, but she can’t come to a pantry that is open between 10 and 12 every single day, maybe she could order on her phone over her lunch break.”

Catholic Charities is excited about the opportunities the pantry offers, he said.

As he spoke, Lester led listeners through the building.

While its resemblance to the former La Salette Missionaries Chapel and gymnasium are fading as it undergoes renovations, the structure has retained architectural details from its heyday.

Early during the effort, workers uncovered original stone in the site’s chapel — once coated with black paint to prevent it from distracting from performances on a stage. Wood-covered ceilings are again visible. They hover over a large, open space that will be modified using modular furniture to fit needs as they come.

Part of the $4.2 million project, a 4,000-square-foot addition has be erected on the east end of the building.

Campbell said there are spaces in the building where health professionals can expand on programs it does at its offices on Truman Boulevard, such as teaching food safety classes or teaching how to make baby food.

During renovations, crews created four universal medical/dental examination rooms, which the health care providers might consider using to reach the community with vaccinations or other services, Lester pointed out.

The new home for Catholic Charities falls right in line with Capital Region Medical Center’s mission to improve the communities it serves, said Lindsay Huhman, director of marketing and public relations.

“The ideas are endless once you see the space,” Huhman said. “Especially knowing that we may have a space to do some screenings here privately. Engaging with our residents. Engaging with students who come through the hospital.”

The facility is great for the community, she added.

The building could be a catalyst that helps collaborations develop, said Bev Stafford, director of the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation.

The foundation has been in on the development of the project since the ground floor. It provided $200,000 to help Catholic Charities purchase the site in February 2020. The foundation pitched in another $120,000 to assist with development of the exam rooms in October last year.

“(Agencies) want to know, ‘How can we best use the space?'” Stafford said. “Even if it’s just screenings. We’ll be determining ‘hand-offs,’ and points of cooperation.”

There are a lot of different models already in place, serving communities throughout the nation.

“I think they’re all worth taking a look at,” Stafford said.