By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
INDEPENDENCE — Sometimes, God has bigger plans.
That’s what the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist are learning again, and they are turning to the people of God to help them fulfill God’s grander ideas.
Seventeen years ago, the Franciscan sisters built a warehouse to collect household items and clothing to ship overseas, maybe once or twice a year at a cost of some $10,000, to the missions they once served.
But soon, word spread — both in the Kansas City metropolitan area, and the Third World.
Hospitals and medical clinics locally began sending used equipment and supplies that would otherwise go to a landfill, and the sisters began shipping them to clinics and hospitals in every corner of the world to whom those supplies were, well, a Godsend.
And last year, the sisters spent some $260,000 to send another shipment of those supplies every two weeks to where they would save untold thousands of lives, and they simply can’t sustain that kind of expense any longer.
But of course, that doesn’t mean the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist are about to quit. Far from it, said Paul Wilson, a retired U.S. Army major and helicopter pilot hired a year ago to oversee the warehouse and shipping operation.
“We could scale back to two or three shipments a year, but we want to meet the greatest needs we can,” Wilson said.
“We have to plus-up the money side so we can operate the way we know we can,” he said. “If we had $300,000 a year, we could run this place without the sisters worrying about where they would put their heads at night.”
Sister Andrea Kantner, who has overseen the warehouse project since it began in 1995, said the Franciscan sisters are in the process of forming the project into a separate non-profit organization in order to create a stable source of funding without bankrupting the religious community.
“$10,000 a shipment. That will take care of everything,” Sister Andrea said.
“In order to have the recipients claim ownership, we ask that they find sponsors to take $3,000 of the $10,000. We (the community) can pay $2,000. The other $5,000, we would get from the people of God.”
Wilson said a tour of the Franciscan sisters’ 9,000-square-foot Mission Warehouse at the northernmost end of Noland Road shows exactly how God’s hand has changed this particular project.
Used hospital beds are stacked practically floor to ceiling. Scores of wheelchairs, walkers, are ready to be shipped out. There are examination tables, operating tables, and even some sophisticated electronic equipment headed for some place in the world where they will still save lives.
Wilson pointed out an ultrasound machine, donated to the warehouse by an OB/GYN clinic that had upgraded its equipment.
“This is obsolete as far as we are concerned,” Wilson said. “I guarantee you, it will be worth its weight in gold to where we will be sending it.”
That will likely go to a maternity clinic that is expanding into a hospital in the slum outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. The director of that clinic, learning of the Mission Warehouse a half a world away only by word of mouth, send an urgent request for “anything you can send.”
Wilson said he contacted the director, a woman who, by the grace of God, had a daughter living not only in the United States, but in Overland Park, Kan., who helped Wilson pull together a more specific list of needs.
“I actually had her (the director’s) granddaughter on my lap, as her daughter was talking to her on the phone. I had tears running down my face,” he said.
But the warehouse’s challenge is double-edged, Wilson said. As fast as the next shipment goes out, a new shipment of used but perfectly good medical supplies and equipment comes in — hospital gowns, sheets, linens, surgical supplies, more beds, more operating tables, more examination tables, and even dentist’s chairs.
“Every time we get to 100 percent capacity (at the warehouse), we have to get the money to ship just to make room for the next truck coming in,” Wilson said. “My constant fear is that we’re going to have to say no to something coming in that we don’t have room for, that we won’t have the money to ship and a hospital will want to give us some really good stuff that we can’t take.”
Sister Andrea pointed out that the costs of shipping are a fraction of the value of the some 15 tons of supplies that go out with each shipment. She valued each shipment at a minimum of $250,000. Wilson quickly corrected her.
“When you add stuff like sonograms, or other electronic equipment, it can easily reach $1 million,” he said.
Take the centrifuge that separates blood cells that now sits in a warehouse. The hospital that donated it had marked it, “inoperable.” Wilson took a look, found a loose screw, tightened it, and the centrifuge worked perfectly.
And that is the second half of the Mission Warehouse’s needs — volunteers of all kinds, willing to sort and organize the donations, and especially skilled volunteers who can help with minor repairs, or computer technicians who can help put inventory on a database that can be easily maintained.
Soon, if volunteer help comes forward, the Mission Warehouse might have a Web site at which a doctor anywhere in the world can call up, look at the inventory, and put in a specific request beyond the Kenyan doctor’s urgent plea for “anything you can send.”
With more money and volunteer help, he said, the warehouse project can become even more efficient and save even more lives around the world.
“Need meets opportunity,” Wilson said. “The need is great, and the opportunity in Kansas City to meet that need is great.”
And so is the faith of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in both God and the people of God, said Sister Andrea.
“This is God’s doing. It just can’t be from us. God has his hand in this,” she said.
“We know how this project has affected the lives of people all over the world,” Sister Andrea said. “But can this message we have reach the hearts of those open to God to see the value of helping people who don’t have by sending them stuff that would be going into our landfills? I know it can.”
To learn about the opportunities for helping the world’s poor through the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist Mission Warehouse project, contact Sister Andrea Kantner by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by postal mail at the 2100 N. Noland Rd., Independence MO 64050; by phone at (816) 252-1673; or Paul Wilson by phone at (816) 806-5566.