Olathe & Southwest Joco

Olathe congregation carves time for community service from worship schedule

Pastor Lee Jost likes to preach about community service, but he also makes sure his congregation at Christ the Servant Evangelical Covenant Church has plenty of opportunities to put those sermons into practice.

The 3-year-old church is small, with about 50 or 60 regular members who meet at Santa Fe Middle School each Sunday to pray. On the third Sunday of every month, they skip the worship service and spend the time serving the community.

“In starting a new congregation, I felt like it was important for us to do more than just talk about serving,” Jost said. “We already know folks can get to church on a Sunday — if we’re going to be there anyway, we might as well go ahead and serve.”

The congregation has helped Santa Fe Middle School’s Back Snack food program and has done odd jobs around the houses of disabled, needy and low-income families.

Last month, they teamed up with two other faith-based organizations — Mission Southside and Brothers in Blue — to put on a free “garage sale” at the middle school to distribute clothes and other donated items to families in need. This is the third year they’ve helped sponsor the sale.

Church member Pamela Dace helped at last year’s giveaway and wanted this one to be a little bit different. She helped organize booths from STOP Underage Drinking, the Olathe Public Library, the Olathe Fire Department, the Johnson County Sherriff’s office, the Johnson County Health Department and State Farm Insurance.

The agencies were there to share information about the services they offer low income families and families who might need extra support dealing with difficult issues. Various companies, including Price Chopper, Hy-Vee, AMC Theatres and the Kansas City Royals, donated prizes for drawings, and Great Clips gave attendees free haircuts on site.

“We target neighborhoods, areas in the community that we know have under-served families,” Jost said.

One of the garage sale partners, Mission Southside, puts these events on in different locations all over Johnson County with the goal of distributing clothes, toys and other items to the people who need them.

The organization also tries to check in on the families who come to the garage sales to make sure they’re getting all the services they need, practically and spiritually.

The events are set up like garage sales, but participants don’t have to pay for the items. At the sale, the prevailing rule is to just take what you need. The group also provides free hot dogs for people who attend.

Brothers in Blue, which also helped at this sale, is a program that aims to help inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility make a smooth transition to the outside world once they are released.

To be out and helping at the sale, inmates had to be approved a month in advance by the Department of Corrections. They had to be minimum custody prisoners in good standing, without disciplinary referrals.

Jerry Ruzicka, Brothers in Blue’s program manager, said that 90 percent of the program’s work takes place within the prison.

His philosophy for the program is that having the inmates participate in volunteer work like the garage sale helps them function better in society after their release.

Kyle Hodges, 28, who expects to be released from Lansing in 2015, has been in the program for several years.

“It’s really a humbling experience, being able to give back to a society I took from,” Hodges said. “I love being able to go out and show society that people really do go to prison and change their life.”