Olathe & Southwest Joco

Friendships grow from generosity’s seed

Amy Herman chatted with mothers and children during a recent “homework huddle.”
Amy Herman chatted with mothers and children during a recent “homework huddle.” The Kansas City Star

Amy Herman never wants to see anyone go hungry. So she was particularly concerned in January of last year that Olathe students who received free and reduced lunches were going without food when inclement weather canceled school several times.

Equipped with a box of nonperishable food, Herman headed to the leasing office of the Eagle’s Pointe apartment complex in Olathe, a community where many residents fall significantly below the poverty line. Herman left the box of food with apartment manager and co-owner Libby Valiente and told her that residents could take whatever they wanted.

But Herman’s generosity didn’t stop there.

“She called later and asked what we needed replenished,” said Valiente. “She then went through and replenished items in the box, which I thought was very gracious.”

And so began a friendship between Eagle’s Point and the Olathe-based nonprofit Herman works for, Mission Southside.

That one box of food led to Mission Southside’s hosting free garage sales at the property, where residents could choose from clothes and other items. That in turn led to Fun Fridays throughout the summer where the organization hosted free lunch for any resident. The event even included activities for the kids like crafts, visits from Olathe police officers who let kids tour their patrol cars, and a chance to run through an open fire hydrant set up by Olathe firefighters.

When Fun Fridays ended, many of the kids who lived at the complex were sad. That’s when Herman and Mission Southside got the idea to start homework huddles, a weekly tutoring session held at the apartment complex.

It seems the more that Mission Southside saw a need at the complex, the more they set out to find ways to offer assistance.

Valiente can’t say enough good things about Mission Southside. In the 10 years that she and her husband have owned Eagle’s Pointe Apartments, she’s witnessed many church groups come in and generously offer a meal or two. But eventually, those groups would leave. She’s never seen a group come in and build relationships the way Mission Southside has done.

“I don’t think I have ever met more genuine people,” said Valiente. “They get to know our tenants. They know the kids’ names. They know what’s going on in the local schools. It’s very personal.”

Mission Southside has been giving back to the community since 2011 when it began providing BackSnacks to some middle school students in Olathe who were receiving free lunches through the school district. Students would take home a backpack of nonperishable snacks over the weekend in order to supplement food when they couldn’t eat at school. In 2011, the program served 25 kids. Today, around 250 students from four middle schools and one alternative education program in the Olathe School District and two middle schools in the Gardner School District receive snacks through the organization.

Mission Southside isn’t a church, but they work with local churches. When Mission Southside identifies a site like Eagle’s Pointe Apartments that has a need, they seek out a church to adopt the site. They then form what’s called a site team. Olathe Christian Church has adopted Eagle’s Pointe and its volunteers regularly go there to help with events like the homework huddle.

But as is often the case, there are more needs than resources. According to Herman, 27,000 families go to bed hungry every night in Johnson County. Mission Southside has set up four site teams at Olathe apartment and trailer home communities but they need more churches to come forward to help.

“We need churches to come and adopt more sites,” said Herman. We can provide easy on ramps for service in their congregations.”

With the help of Olathe Christian Church, Mission Southside was able to provide parents at Eagle’s Pointe with Christmas gifts recently that they could wrap and give to their children on their own.

“I think sometimes we sit behind our church walls and we don’t think about the families that are really struggling in our community,” said Herman. “It’s not easy to be poor and hungry in an affluent community like Johnson County. But our organization has a neighbor’s heart.”

You can help

To volunteer or donate to Mission Southside, please visit their website at missionsouthside.org.