The lunch hour is winding down as Taylor Bray fills a picnic basket and leaves her cozy women’s boutique, Lovebird, in the Power Light District.
Her black patent-leather stilettos pick up the pace as she sees two weary-looking women waiting for a bus.
“Are you hungry?” she asks, considering it less-intrusive than asking if they are homeless. The younger woman straightens up, smiling.
Madeline Hartnett, 18, spent the morning applying for food stamps and hasn’t eaten since the night before. She takes a peanut butter sandwich, chips and water, and gives Bray a big hug.
Bray’s mission to feed the homeless began five months ago after she saw a man looking for a bite to eat in a trash bin by her shop. A week later, she found a bright red beaded bracelet while walking her dog in Liberty. “Feed” was spelled out in white letters. She considered it a sign and wears it daily.
Bray packs freshly made sandwiches in the morning to pass out during stops on her drive into work and hands out food on the street for lunch. She even keeps sandwiches in the shop for anyone who stops by during store hours.
A 30-something man from Mozambique comes in daily for hot tea and talk — from chastising Bray for her poor “air guitar” to giving her advice on boys that he gleans from Cosmopolitan magazine.
“It’s developed into a friendship,” said Bray, 25. “He’s devoted his life to Christ, which is what I do. I just want to feed people who are hungry.”
At 1:41 p.m., near the end of her route, Bray heads toward a heavily bearded man resting against a wall on 13th Street, four plastic grocery bags of worldly possessions stacked by his side. She plops down beside him without a thought to her sleek black pants, introducing herself with a handshake and handing him a sandwich. She asks about his plans. He tells her he lives one day at a time.
“God bless you. Bundle up,” he says on this chilly day. “Pray for sunshine.”1:32 p.m.
Melissa Lind stomps on her shovel and rocks it back and forth, hoping to break a stubborn root.
When she’s done with this one, it’ll be on to another. And another.
While thousands of college students are sunning on beaches or hitting the slopes, Lind and seven others from Tabor College in central Kansas are in Kansas City, Kan., clearing a lot between two homes.
In a couple of months, there should be food growing here, enough to share with families in the Rosedale neighborhood.
Lind and the other students have been in town several days, volunteering at the Kansas City Rescue Mission. Now, for three hours this afternoon, with a warm sun making a cold wind bearable, they’re laying the groundwork for a community garden, part of the Rosedale Healthy Kids Initiative.
“You get more out of a trip like this,” Lind says.
As she works her shovel back and forth, her college friends claw at overgrown weeds crawling up a chain-link fence and pull out unwanted grass.
“I’ll double your pay if you can get that root out,” garden co-creator Brandon Gillette hollers. “Without breaking the shovel.”
Lind smiles and keeps rocking the shovel.More information:
The Kansas City Royals’ Read to Achieve program is kicking off at Satchel Paige Elementary, and Toby Cook – the team’s easygoing vice president of public relations – is imploring roughly 200 kids to bring out the star of the show, who apparently has been hibernating during the Major League Baseball off season.
“Wake up, Sluggerrr!” the kids yell in unison.
Not good enough, Cook prods. Louder!
“Waaaake uuuuup, Sluggerrrrrrrr!” they shout.
This was good enough, apparently, because out comes the Royals’ lion of a mascot who draws wide-eyed squeals of laughter by simply wobbling into the gymnasium like he just woke up.
Sluggerrr, however, is just getting warmed up. Over the next 20 minutes, he entertains the youngsters with a variety of hijinks while Cook and Royals Hall of Famer John Mayberry slyly tout the virtues of reading.
The goal of Read to Achieve is simple – challenge students at three schools to read independently for 15 minutes a day for 30 days. And the Royals’ hope is that the sight of Sluggerrr, plus all the fun the students have at the rally, will be enough to build excitement about the program. Appropriately, kids who reach the goal will have an opportunity to attend a Royals game on June 22 on Sluggerrr’s Read to Succeed Night.
And by the end of the assembly, Cook is relieved because it appears the kids are sufficiently excited. That much is evident when Mayberry, who has just been overshadowed by a 6-foot mascot, is suddenly swarmed by a group of 10 to 15 kids, all asking for his autograph. They’re too young to know who he is, too young to know why he’s famous around these parts.
But he was onstage with Sluggerrr. And that has to count for something, right?3:11 p.m.
Alice Lowder shoves a bedspread into the washing machine in the basement of the Grand Avenue Temple in downtown Kansas City. She folds the blankets from the dryer.
Then she’s in the kitchen, washing sweet potatoes and scrubbing pots. When there’s work to be done, you do it, she says. No pay. Just the satisfaction that you’re helping others.
“This is part of my walk — getting closer to Christ,” says Lowder, 57. “I feel, to me, that the Lord knows exactly where to put his people.”
She moves fast from chore to chore, and talks faster, explaining how she made a decision eight years ago that changed her course in life and landed her homeless in Kansas City. And she’s grateful.
A letter carrier in the Miami area during the late 1990s, Lowder felt something was missing. Suffering chronic migraines, she often felt alone and sad.The daughter of a preacher, she finally decided she needed to know God, not just act like she did. She sold her house and gave away her money. She picked Kansas City off the map and came here with roughly $300.
She’d be homeless and volunteer her time, learning to love people and love herself.
After five years of living in homeless camps and shelters, Grand Avenue asked her to stay in its shelter full-time. She now helps with the church’s Lazarus Ministries.
“You can have money, have a house,” she says, still scrubbing a pot. “But when loneliness sits in your heart and something doesn’t feel right, you’re never going to feel satisfied. I need to feel satisfied on the inside.”
Here in Kansas City, she finally does.More information:
www.grandavenue templeumc.org4 p.m.
In this treed area near Noland Road in Independence, the crunch of gravel under Linda Pringle’s tires serves as a sort of dinner bell.
When she steps out of her Jeep, here come cats, 15 of them, strutting down the hill in single file.
It’s time to eat and they know it.
Pringle kneels and cats of all shades and fur lengths sashay up to her, rubbing against her legs, climbing in her lap. She strokes their fur and scratches their heads and bellies.
The 54-year-old real estate agent and the cats she calls “free roaming, not feral” perform the ritual four times a week when she comes to feed them.
Pringle and about a dozen other cat lovers — they call themselves The Jazz Cats — have been feeding her colony of about 30 cats twice a day for nearly four years. Pringle serves three cans of wet food and 4 pounds of dry.
As many as 50 cats used to live here, hidden from passing motorists by trees and several straw hut-like enclosures The Jazz Cats built. They call them cat condos.
“Hey kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty,” Pringle says, making a kissing sound as she walks to the trees, looking for more cats. The ones that had come out to greet her follow.
“I like to make a picnic for them,” Pringle says, spreading a blue plastic tarp. She lays down towels, too. “This is the only time they get to lie on something soft.”
“Come here, Lippy,” she says to a big black one with piercing yellow eyes. “He has what looks like a bottom lip. He is the alpha cat. He’s the boss and he shows his dominance.”
“Come here, Frankie, come to mama,” she calls to a fluffy cat. “We call her Frankie because her eyes are blue like Frank Sinatra’s,” Pringle says, snuggling Frankie under her neck.
She talks to Agnes and Pigeon and Pretty Patty and all the rest.
“I just can’t get enough of them. For a cat lover, this is great therapy.”
During bitter cold winter nights, Pringle worries the cats may freeze even though they have shelter. She wants them all adopted.
“That’s why I don’t say feral — that has a connotation that they are mean,” she said. “They are not mean; they’re sweet, and very brave. Someone could take them home.”
The Jazz Cats have trapped and then spayed or neutered about four dozen cats in the colony. Fifteen of the cats have been adopted. Four have died.
But about 30 “well-fed” cats still roam these five acres. And Pringle, who has four cats of her own at home, never worries that they’ll miss a meal. The Jazz Cats “will always show up to feed them; they are dedicated to the core.”To volunteer:
Sarah Kelly helps the 6-year-old with a baby-tooth-gapped smile read the line.
“Do you like my hat?”
Saladeen Abdullah twists, his face bending down into the pages, reading the answering line, “I.do.” Then his head pops up, chin high, his big brown eyes level with Sarah’s, their noses practically touching. “.not!” he finishes.
His exuberant “t” sounds like a snapping twig.
Saladeen wasn’t reading when the school year started. But here he is, with Sarah — a Notre Dame de Sion senior who has accumulated some 470 volunteer hours. She’s one of 120 volunteers helping the Upper Room’s One to One Challenge tutoring program.
“What do we do when we don’t know?” Sarah says when Saladeen stumbles at another word.
He answers in the spirit of a drum major: “Sound it out!”
Moments later, he works one out: “wha-wha-whawater!”
“See?” Sarah says. “You’re figuring it out. You’rereading
Now Saldeen curls close to her, the top of his head against her chin.
“Give me five for that,” Sarah says.To volunteer:
Even before the school’s library opens its doors, the three volunteer coaches are in game position, heads bent, deep in strategies.
Chess. It’s not for wimps, says Ty Williams, one of three 16-year-old chess teachers.
Once a week, they travel from North Kansas City High School to West Englewood Elementary to coach younger kids how to play “the best game ever.”
The pressure to win can break some and prove the mettle of others.
“We’ve had kids with attention deficit disorder grow calm when they sit before a chess board,” Brandon Williams says.
“We’ve had criers sometimes, too,” Ty says. (Criers are isolated, offered a drink and then told to chill out.) “Learning how all the pieces move can be real frustrating for a little kid.”
But for these three sophomores, working with protégés teaches them a lot about patience and gentleness and good sportsmanship and how to teach a game that’s mighty complicated while making it look easy?
Without chess, Ty, Brandon and their fellow coach, Trenton Walters, say they’d be deep into xBoxes, or tweeting incomplete sentences, or maybe even be into something worse like football.
At 4:32, the library doors open and 14 elementary schoolchildren hurl themselves like hungry wolf pups to devour the waiting rooks, knights and queens. And the games begin.To volunteer: firstname.lastname@example.org