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“Why I give to Catholic Charities”

By Stan Koenigsfeld

When I was first asked to share my story — the reason behind my excitement to give to Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri — the Gospel at Sunday Mass was the reading from Matthew 25:

“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you’? And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

I ask you to take a deep breath, and read that scripture again.

When I heard that proclaimed in church, it brought me back to the catalyst for our support of Catholic Charities, and the start of the meaningful relationship I have with the agency now.

It was two years ago. My wife, Julie, was on the Family Selection Committee for River City Habitat for Humanity. Charged with reviewing and approving or denying applications for build projects, they had to make the hard decision to reject (yet another) candidate, due to their predatory loan debt.

Predatory loans come under many pseudonyms: payday, title, cash advance — you’ve probably heard of many of them.

When someone in need is struggling financially, it’s not a “safe bet” to enroll clients into programming when they’re strapped with the added burden of predatory loan fees.

I used to be critical of folks like this and the decisions they made, until I was given the chance to encounter them — to hear their personal stories.

These are folks with no other options. When their car broke down, and they needed it to get to work, what other choices did they have? Lose the job, or take out a title loan.

This struck me, deeply.

I came to realize that, born to different parents, in a different area, or with two or three bad financial decisions, that could be any one of us.

Julie came home from her meeting that night upset and looking for answers.

I wanted them, too. I met with a good friend of ours, John Landwehr, who at the time served as the chairman for the board of Catholic Charities.

The conversation got the ball rolling. Over the next six months, a team of friends worked alongside leadership at Catholic Charities and myself to find a solution.

Mirroring a service that Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas provides to clients, the Predatory Loan Relief service in the Community Services program was established.

The funding was raised, the banking partner was found, staff were onboarded and the program launched.

It’s one thing to look at the numbers, it’s another to hear the stories.

Our first client went from 291% interest (yes, I too am shocked that it is legal to charge interest at that rate) to 9.25% with our great partner, MidAmerica Bank.

This household’s monthly loan payments went from an incredible $462 per month to a manageable $138 per month — life-changing at the income level they lived on.

For every client that qualifies and completes the program, relief is waiting. But as the financial stability specialist, Kathy Frese, sets up meetings, enrolls clients, provides case management and goal-based counseling, someone out there is still feeling that they have no other option but to go in for that payday loan.

In fact, she told me once that as she entered the loan office to pay off one client’s high-interest loan, a new mom and her baby were walking in, likely to take one out.

There is much more work to be done.

In fall of 2022, I, myself, was invited to join the board of Catholic Charities. Since that time, I have come to understand that there is great need in this world — not just numbers but real stories and real lives.

Opening my mind and my heart to these stories has tested my faith in some ways. Do I believe that God really is who he says he is? Do I believe that everything I have belongs to him?

Some days I get it, but somedays I miss the opportunity to embrace that. It’s a journey we’re each on, a call we each have before us to answer.

Here’s what I do know — every single day, the employees and volunteers at Catholic Charities are making a difference in the lives of our neighbors in need.

I am extremely grateful for the work they do and the ways they serve.

The Predatory Loan Relief program is one of many services, one that I am so grateful to see operating, and one I am invested in seeing succeed.

What needs do you see that are yet unmet? What passions do you have that could grow a program, a service, or service-reach to those in need through Catholic Charities?

I invite you to take some time to think on that, pray about it, and to come and see what we’re doing at Catholic Charities, and the impact it’s having on the communities we serve.

Mr. Koenigsfeld is secretary of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.