The Western Kansas Committee, a group of Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, has banded together to address spiritual and physical needs in western Kansas. One of its first projects is gathering duffle bags, backpacks and personal hygiene items to donate to St. Francis Ministries to aid foster children.


"There is a strong connection for the Sisters of St. Joseph to western Kansas," said Sister Sarah Ganser, committee member.


"Many of the sisters have deep ties to western Kansas, Sister Marcia Allen added "Our hearts are there. Many, if not most, of us come from there. It is a place where we feel at home and we hope to be home there for others."


"In the past, we (Sisters of St. Joseph) assisted in creating and empowering rural towns working as neighbors, educators, parish staff members, spiritual directors, health care workers and more," Sister Sarah said.  "This is a continuation of that heritage to further the connection in the present day."


"Our hope is to create connections within the communities of western Kansas," Sister Sarah said. "The expansiveness of western Kansas creates many needs, but has many hidden resources. We wish to bring awareness of the love and mercy of God to empower communities to grow and heal with support from one another."


To kick off one of the committee’s first projects, they contacted Cher Richards, associate director of development and donor relations at St. Francis Ministries, headquartered in Salina, to offer their assistance to children in the foster care system in western Kansas.


"I realized the need to support children in foster care when I worked as a reintegration and adoption worker in the foster care system," Sister Sarah said. "One of the heartbreaking moments was when children needed to be moved quickly. There were times when basic needs of hygiene items and bags in which to place the children's possessions were lacking."


"Ever since, I have wanted to find ways to increase the support so children in that moment know that just because they are moving does not mean they are dispensable during an extremely emotional time," Sister Sarah said. "Being able to have a bag and the basic hygiene items can increase the confidence in the move by knowing basic material needs are met."


"Sarah reached out to me and then I reached out to my contacts in the western Kansas offices and asked what their main needs were, and backpacks and duffel bags are something they mentioned a lot," Richards said. "It is an item that they always need for the foster kids. A lot of times these kids are removed from a home unexpectedly, and they are leaving without anything. A backpack or a duffel bag — those are tools they can use to gather what few items that they do have and take them with them if they are moved to a different foster home."


The sisters on the Western Kansas Committee — which includes Sisters Dian Hall, Beverly Carlin, Denise Schmitz, Marcia Allen, Marilyn Wall, Vera Meis, Sarah Ganser and CSJ candidate Angela Jones — already have gathered almost 40 backpacks for the project, as well as tubs of personal items like brushes, combs, toothbrushes, hand sanitizer and toothpaste. Additionally, small stuffed animals and pillows add a personal touch to the bags. Sisters Sarah and Bev hope to deliver the collection of donated items to the St. Francis Ministries offices in Hays in late October.


Since 1945, Saint Francis Ministries has been dedicated to the needs of children and youth. What began as a home for boys on the Kansas prairie is now a multi-faceted child and family services ministry serving over 31,000 people in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois, Texas, and Central America with a broad range of programs and services. Though rooted in the Episcopal tradition, Saint Francis Ministries is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection, nurturing, and healing of children and families in body, mind, and spirit.


In addition to supporting the needs of foster children, the Western Kansas Committee will continue to explore new ways to assist rural western Kansans.


"The needs or wants of families and individuals in rural western Kansas are the same yet different, in that to access them they are not right at your fingertips as you would find in cities such as Manhattan, Wichita or Kansas City. As a committee we are hoping to discover the needs of each town and how we can creatively offer workshops, retreats, and spiritual direction to enhance their spiritual life without them having to drive across the state to meet those needs," Sister Denise said.


The committee is exploring similar projects to the foster care backpacks, as well ideas for retreats with individuals and parishes.


"By building on the unique strengths of each community, individuals increase their ability to overcome the difficulties of life and enhance the treasure of life in rural Kansas," Sister Sarah said. "The ordinary gifts of acceptance and trust of each person will create new realities within the community."