By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — There isn’t a doubt in her mind. Millions of people are alive today because of the generosity of students from St. Pius X High School, Franciscan Sister Andrea Kantner told the students.
Every year since 2004, St. Pius students have put together a traditional St. Joseph’s Table, a tradition particularly for Catholics of Italian heritage.
Every year since 2004, the students have donated every dime they took in from the table to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in Independence to use in their 19-year project of gathering and shipping medical supplies and equipment throughout the world.
It’s added up. $37,005.02 to be precise.
“What this money has done is save millions of lives,” Sister Andrea told the students at an April 28 assembly. “I want this diocese as a whole to know what your school has done by looking beyond your own needs.”
This year’s table was a record-breaker. In addition to the $4,500 earned from the sale of baked goods and the free-will offering pasta Milanese dinner, Sister Andrea also received a matching gift of $4,000 from Power Play Family Entertainment and Mick Witherow, son of the school’s cafeteria director, Barbara Tulipana Witherow.
The whole project was Barbara Witherow’s idea.
In November 2002, she clipped out an article from The Catholic Key about the Franciscans’ ongoing project to collect donated supplies and equipment and ship them to the poor around the world and in the United States.
At first, the sisters were taking in and shipping everything — clothes, school supplies, whatever people wanted to give.
They still do that, but soon the sisters learned that Kansas City area hospitals and medical clinics were throwing away perfectly good medical equipment as they upgraded. The sisters then started collecting hospital beds, operating and examining tables, wheelchairs, walkers, even ultrasound and other technological equipment before they went to the landfill.
Then they would load them up from their warehouse on their motherhouse grounds in Independence onto shipping containers and trailers to send to places that had very little, and sometimes, literally, nothing.
It costs the sisters $10,000 a month to make the one shipment per month that is their goal, Sister Andrea said. Through the generosity of donors, they are usually able to meet that goal, and the generosity of ongoing partners like the students of St. Pius X certainly helps.
This year’s donation went a long way toward sending a shipment of medical equipment, some 11 tons in all, to the Diocese of Otupko in Nigeria. In addition, it also helped fund a very special shipment to Barbara Witherow.
Years ago, Witherow’s mother, Thelma Tulipana, donated a new organ to St. John’s Mission in Dover, Mo. She took the church’s old organ and used it in her home until she died.
That organ, along with four pianos, as well as clothing and school supplies, were packed on a semi-trailer truck for Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where the instruments will be used to begin a music program for Native American school children.
“My mother’s favorite charity was the Indian missions, so I am thrilled with this,” Witherow said.
She is also thrilled that the St. Pius X students took her idea and ran with it to have an annual St. Joseph’s Table to raise money for the Franciscan outreach.
This isn’t the entirely elaborate St. Joseph’s Table found in traditional Italian-American parishes, where the bakers will spend weeks preparing elaborate pastries, cookies and bread.
The students are asked to bring in cookies — home-made cookies that they have baked themselves.
Witherow then displays the cookies along with a couple of traditional bread crosses donated by Roma Bakery in the school cafeteria on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, as students then give whatever they want to donate to buy the baked goods and eat the meatless pasta lunch.
“The kids do it all. They bring in the cookies, the spaghetti, everything,” Witherow said.
And they do one more thing. Nine days before the feast, they begin praying the Novena of St. Joseph.
“I can tell you that we’ve gotten some miracles out of that,” Witherow said.
Witherow also said that the project also ties in with her devotion to St. Therese, the “Little Flower,” who taught that little ways add up to big devotions.
“We can all be missionaries if we pray for the missions,” Witherow said. “We can all be disciples by doing what we can.”
Sister Andrea prays that more people, organizations and businesses would help the vital mission of providing better medical care throughout the world.
“Right now, we’re trying to average one shipment a month,” she said. “That’s $120,000 that we know we are going to be spending every year.”
Information about the Franciscan Sisters outreach to the world’s poor is available online at www.franciscanmissionwarehouse.org.