Reach of nonprofit grows with need for food, clothes

Three years ago, a few members of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit got the idea to start a food pantry and clothes closet.

They weren’t sure how many people they would serve, or really even what the need was. They just felt compelled to help their neighbors any way they could.

That small endeavor has grown into a large faith-based nonprofit known as Coldwater, helping feed, clothe and comfort thousands of residents across Lee’s Summit and in other pockets of the metro area.

Twice a month, they feed a hot meal to hundreds and give out bags of groceries to families in need. In the summer, they host barbecues in poorer neighborhoods and pass out lunches to about 200 children five days a week. And every Friday, volunteers with Coldwater deliver backpacks of food to several elementary schools so children have enough to eat over the weekend. Some packs are provided by Harvesters, some by Coldwater.

“I’m just in awe at what is happening here,” said Jackie Knabe, executive director of Coldwater, who on Saturday helped run the agency’s holiday festival for needy families. “I knew it would grow and be big. But I had no idea it would grow so fast.”

Hundreds of volunteers, including those from other churches and Boy Scout troops, help Coldwater carry out its mission of improving the community through the building of friendships. Other than feeding families and children, the nonprofit helps seniors and people with disabilities. When organizers see a new need, they try to address it, often leaning on the help of others.

“Coldwater might have been the original inspiration of one church,” said Erin High, a kindergarten teacher in Lee’s Summit who also belongs to Cornerstone Baptist Church. “But it’s the reality of lots of churches and other organizations and groups.”

The name of the nonprofit comes from a Bible teaching: If you have nothing else to give, you can start with a cup of cold water.

Early on, church members didn’t have much more than that. But once people in the community heard what the group was doing, about the need in Lee’s Summit, they wanted to help.

About three months into the pantry/clothes closet endeavor, Knabe learned the depths of childhood hunger in the area. She remembers the day she saw it up close.

Knabe was in her middle-class Lee’s Summit neighborhood, and a boy she knows came up to her and said: “Miss Jackie, do you have any food? I don’t have any food in my house.”

Call it her wake-up moment.

And the more she and others with Coldwater worked to help people in need — especially hungry children — the more she woke up.

“You never ever know what somebody’s story is,” Knabe said. “I’ve learned you can’t make assumptions of what someone has and needs based on what they look like, how they dress, where they live. You just can’t. Some kids who live in the nicest homes are taking home a backpack on the weekends.”

Nearly every day, Coldwater gets a call from a school or parent about a child needing food. The agency now raises money to pay for more packs of food to send home.

Karen Haren, president and CEO of the Harvesters food bank, said anytime the need has grown in Lee’s Summit, Coldwater has expanded to meet it.

“It speaks to people really wanting to make a difference,” Haren said. “We view them as partners, partners in helping to feed kids in the community. It takes a lot of partners because there are a lot of hungry kids out there.”

Knabe knows the work of Coldwater is helping. One day, as she carried 25 backpacks into a school office in her neighborhood, that same boy who had approached her a couple of years ago ran to her and smiled wide.

“I get those backpacks,” he told her. “I love those backpacks.”

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