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Kansas City Groups Use Martin Luther King Day To Serve Homeless And Hungry

Kyle Palmer
KCUR 89.3

Volunteers began gathering early Monday morning at Mt. Zion Baptist Churchin Kansas City, Kansas. 

They braved icy roads and single-digit temperatures but none doubted the reason they were there. 

"This is one of the biggest celebrations of the year," said Frank Lavender, a lead organizer for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Motorcade/March for Hunger. "It gives us the opportunity to make the community aware of the all the people who need food. We use this day to get the word out."

Lavender said several area churches have teamed up for more than 25 years gathering food for the hungry and homeless on Martin Luther King Day. By one estimate, the churches will collect about "two truckloads" of items. Lavender noted the neighborhood around Mt. Zion had "a lot of children, seniors and other people who just straight out need food." 

Leading the motorcade this year, as they have in the past, were several police cruisers, followed by a SWAT vehicle, three fire engines and an ambulance. 

Credit Kyle Palmer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Several police and fire vehicles led the Motorcade/March for Hunger.

"They've been here doing this with us since the beginning," said the Rev. Tony Carter, chairman of the Martin Luther King celebration at the Jack Reardon Civic Center, where the motorcade would end after it wound through downtown Kansas City, Kansas. 

Carter has been troubled by strained relations between law enforcement and minorities around the nation during the past few years. He indicated an event like the Motorcade/March for Hunger demonstrates collaboration is possible. 

"We want to get to a place where our law enforcement serve and protect all citizens, regardless of their makeup or background. Recent events have said something different. We're hoping to get back to the focus of all of us being in this together," Carter said. 

Across the state line, in Kansas City, Missouri, similar efforts were underway early Monday to spend the day in service for the local community.

The nonprofit Neighbor 2 Neighbor organized a donation drive at its new location at the Mary Kelly Center on east 51st Street. The group serves more than 60 homeless families and individuals, many of whom "live on the streets" of east Kansas City, said Executive Director Warren Freeman.

"We will gather various hygiene items like soap, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products. They don't have the income to get this stuff themselves," Freeman said. 

He acknowledged the day also would serve as a big day for his organization to rally support and stockpile donations for the future. 

"We go through our highs and lows. We try to maintain a steady stream, and when our money begins to run low we have to rely on our individual donors to keep going," he said. 

This year is the first time the group has attempted a Martin Luther King Day donation drive. But Freeman said it was a fitting memorial for the legendary civil rights leader since many of the group's clients are impoverished people of color. 

"We want people to understand the homeless are not the dregs of society. Intermingled with issues of racism is homelessness and hunger," he said. "They are like the rest of us, and I say the rest of us our 'one paycheck away from poverty'. I feel we're all in this thing together." 

Kyle Palmer is a morning newscaster for KCUR. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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