Seton Center honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy

A Seton Center volunteer helps a man find a new suit at the January 20 Suit Giveaway. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer & Megan Marley

KANSAS CITY — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the great civil rights activist of the 1950s and 60s and a Baptist minister. He spoke often of abolishing the inequality between races, helping people rise out of poverty and putting an end to discrimination—“I have a dream,” he famously said in a 1963 speech. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. in 1968.

A year later, The Daughters of Charity coincidentally founded Seton Center at 2816 E. 23rd Street in Kansas City. In the beginning it addressed the food, clothing and housing needs of the neighborhood’s elderly poor. Now fifty years later, Seton Center is a comprehensive community and neighborhood center, including a food pantry, emergency assistance for rent and utility payments, a thrift store, services for older adults and one of the city’s largest safety net dental services programs.

Each January, we remember and honor Dr. King, his birthday, his legacy of equality, freedom and hope. On this year’s Jan. 20 Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Seton Center was able to inspire hope in more than 150 men facing financial challenges by distributing new suits for job interviews, work attire, church and other situations requiring dress clothes.

Gerald Palmer, MSW., Director of Social Services for Seton Center said, “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?’ People who are going through financial difficulties can often find themselves in a terrible dilemma. They want to work, but they can’t get a job because they don’t have the money to buy the right clothing to wear to job interviews. We wanted to eliminate that barrier.”

And thus, the Suit Giveaway was born to help others in King’s honor.

The center spread word through an ad in the Kansas City Call newspaper, word of mouth and on social media. In order to partake in the giveaway, participants had to live within the greater Kansas City area and register ahead of time for a 30-minute time slot from 9 am-2:30 pm by calling Seton Center, registering in person or via email. Registration began Jan. 2 and ended Jan. 13 after a tremendous response—there were 115 registrants and slots for 35 residents of Benilde Hall, a nearby men’s residential center that provides services treating addiction, mental health issues and homelessness while helping them return to their communities as responsible, employed, permanently-housed, contributing members.

A air of excitement permeated the room during the Suit Giveaway.

“I’m like a kid with candy…this is better than going to Walmart,” said Charles Johnson, who was all smiles after receiving a suit. “If they hadn’t made an announcement at church, I wouldn’t have even known!”

More than 1,500 brand-new, never-worn items—two and three piece suits, sportscoats, vests, shirts, slacks, sweaters and ties in a variety of colors, styles and sizes—were provided by a local organization whose only stipulation was that the clothing be given freely. Seton Center staff and volunteers gave each participant a personal shopping experience, so each of the 150 men took home one suit or two sportscoats, two shirts and one tie; those not interested in a suit took home a sportcoat, shirt, or vest, and slacks.

Some of the men took home their very first suit, others their first new suit in years that could fit.

“I had a suit in ’09—ten years ago,” said recipient KC native Michael Powell.

At the end of the day, from 2:30-3 pm, men who didn’t register in time and walk-ins were able to browse through the remaining business attire.

Palmer praised the Seton Center staff, and the center’s strong base of donors and volunteers.

“Our donors and volunteers are a family and love helping others in need is their family tradition,” he said.


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October 19, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph