Atheist volunteers turned away by Kansas City Rescue Mission

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition has been told that its volunteer services will not be needed to help deliver Thanksgiving meals to the poor and elderly this year.

The atheist group has taken offense at the rebuff, but a local rescue mission defends its position.

“We are an unapologetically Christian organization, and we always have been,” said Julie Larocco, development officer for the Kansas City Rescue Mission. “We want to share the message with the people we serve that ‘God loves you, and you are not alone.’ It seemed to us that this (atheist) group probably would not want to deliver those meals.”

The Kansas City Rescue Mission dates to 1950 but began delivering holiday meals only two years ago.

The Atheist Coalition has been pleased to help and was looking forward to another year. But “Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided to use the meals they deliver as a chance to proselytize to its recipients by inserting religious literature into the meals,” Atheist Coalition President Josh Hyde posted Saturday on the group’s website.

He said the mission informed the coalition it “would not be a good fit” for the charitable work.

Larocco confirmed that the mission decided to include a religious message with every food box and single-serving meal this year.

J.T. Eberhard, a former volunteer with the Atheist Coalition, wrote Sunday on the website patheos.com that “including messages of god’s love with a meal to the poor is ironic in the extreme. If god cared about them at least as much as the (Atheist Coalition) volunteers, there would be no need for dispensing meals to the needy — god would’ve taken care of it.”

Eberhard also contended that the mission was hindering its own efforts by turning away volunteers.

But Larocco said there will be plenty of help to provide about 2,400 Thanksgiving meals.

“Christmas and Thanksgiving are prime times for volunteers,” she said. “We get hundreds of people wanting to volunteer, and we have to say no. They (the atheists) have volunteered for two years in a row, for which we are so grateful, and we really like them and welcome them to come back to volunteer anytime they would like on other projects.

“But we really want to give other people an opportunity,” Larocco said.

The coalition says it still intends to adopt a family