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When food pantry needed a home, owner of Victory dealerships stepped up

Eric Gentry, left, CEO of Victory Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram; Janice Witt, CEO of Reola Grant Civitan Center, and Brad Sheldon, Victory Automotive HOPE Coordinator.
Eric Gentry, left, CEO of Victory Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram; Janice Witt, CEO of Reola Grant Civitan Center, and Brad Sheldon, Victory Automotive HOPE Coordinator. Judy Revenaugh

A few weeks ago, a woman looking for the Reola Grant Civitan Center food pantry drove past Victory Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram at 6640 State Ave., in Kansas City, Kan.

Surely, she thought, the food pantry couldn’t be at a car dealership.

“It was beyond her imagination,” said Janice Witt, CEO of Reola Grant Civitan Center (RGCC).

Eventually, the woman figured out that the food pantry was in the back lot of the dealership. Witt and her husband, Ron, were only too happy to give her some food and help her out.

“She said, ‘We would have never thought that somebody who owned a car dealership would care enough about us that they would give us food,’” Witt said.

“That is what this means. It means people can eat. People are seeking help, and they want to hold onto their dignity and pride and they don’t want to be treated with a rough hand. They come here expecting a used car salesman and they get love and a hug.”

The pantry is available through appointment only, by calling Witt at 913-948-4040.

Until November, the RGCC food pantry was at Crossroads Family Church in Kansas City, Kan.

“We mutually agreed that we should separate,” Witt said.

Witt needed another place for the food pantry. The desire to help the less fortunate was ingrained in her from Witt’s mother, Reola Grant.

“When we started having trouble, an angel showed up in the form of Eric Gentry and said we want to see this wonderful thing continue,” Witt said. “We want to see the people eat. It is amazing.”

Gentry is the owner of Victory Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Victory Ford, 715 S. 130th St., Bonner Springs.

Since November, both Victory locations have played a pivotal role in brightening up the holidays for many people in Wyandotte County, the Kansas City area and a two hour radius of Kansas City. Witt said they have people show up for food from as far as Warsaw, Mo.

During Thanksgiving, the pantry fed more than 600 people, which increased to 1,000 for Christmas. Since the pantries opened in November, Witt figures they have fed more than 3,000 people.

For Gentry, it was a natural thing to do. When he joined partnership with Troy Duhon, who is based in New Orleans, he saw how much it meant to Duhon to give food to those in need.

“They have the Food Pantry of New Orleans,” Gentry said. “They feed 1,200 hot meals a day out there.”

When Gentry saw a story in the news about RGCC needing another location for its food pantry, he decided to step in.

Gentry and his employees do more than just lend space for the food pantry.

“Between Victory Chrysler and Victory Ford, we write a check to help fund the food and provide the place,” Gentry said. “Janice and Ron Witt do all the hard work. We do the easy part.

“One of the things I have learned since we have been doing this is a lot of the folks are on fixed income. They either have to make the choice of buying their medicine or buying their food. They are going to pick their medicine. This helps those folks when they have to make that choice. This helps them have their medicine and have their food.”

This could have been a very trying time for Witt and the people who work at RGCC. Instead, they have witnessed how giving people can be to others in need.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4, 7844 Leavenworth Road, is the third location for the RGCC food pantry.

“It is important as it shows a desire of the police to help their community,” Witt said. “They were the first to step up and house us.”

The help doesn’t stop there. Two weeks ago, Classic Buildings in Kansas City donated an $11,000 shed and delivered it for free to Victory Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram to be used as a thrift store.

Witt simply loves the new location at Victory and how it has allowed RGCC to help those in need.

“Typically, what will happen is they will call and set up an appointment,” Witt said how people obtain food from the pantry. “They heard about us through word of mouth. We will set that appointment up and have them meet us here. We have everything set up right here.

“We give them their food with dignity and respect. We don’t ask them a bunch of questions. The questionnaire when we set up the appointment is, ‘Do you have a means to cook, a means to refrigerate. Do you have the means to come and get the food?’”

On Saturday, March 28, there will be an Easter Egg hunt, Easter baskets for kids and a food giveaway. People in need can register for a ham basket by calling Witt. For more information on the Easter baskets, visit www.facebook.com/TheReolaGrantCivitanCenter.

Witt hears stories that let her know the RGCC food pantry is making a difference.

“There was a family who came yesterday,” she said two weeks ago. “They make $20 too much to get food stamps. We gave them ice cream, and he looked at the ice cream and he gets a little weepy. He said, ‘We haven’t had ice cream in years. I don’t know what to say because I am about to cry because of this ice cream.’”

Witt is thankful that RGCC now has a permanent place to help others for years to come. When the new Victory Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram is built in the Legends area in Western Wyandotte County a year from now, RGCC will have access to a portion of the current location. She can’t say enough good things about the employees at Victory.

“They make it happen,” she said. “They put their money where their mouth is. We are so grateful to the employees. They gave up their break room so people can have food.”

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