Salina — While the annual Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas fundraiser had many lighthearted moments, the heart of the evening was the 6,500 services provided to individuals in 39 counties. “I am always amazed by the overwhelming generosity of our supporters,” Catholic Charities Executive Director Michelle Martin said. “We are just so blessed to be surrounded by such genuinely caring donors who want to help others.” More than 200 supporters gathered at the Salina Country Club on July 23 to help Catholic Charities raise more than $300,000, which Martin said is the best fundraiser to date. “We are so grateful to the wonderful people of this diocese for their compassion towards helping others,” she said. This year’s donation match was $100,000. Martin said donors hit the $100,000 mark, so their dollars were doubled. The fundraiser supports 25 percent of Catholic Charities’ annual budget. Another 25 percent of the $1.2 million budget is supported by the Catholic Charities Annual Appeal, which is Aug. 12-13. With 19 staff members in three offices, Martin said Catholic Charities offers 15 core programs. Yet even with a broad range of programs, the heart of them is to assist with financial stabilization and family strengthening.
With a new headquarters open in Salina, hours have expanded. “As we found a place that was more visible here, we felt like it would benefit the individuals we serve if we had hours beyond just 8 to 5,” Martin said in her speech at the fundraiser. “We needed to be more flexible, so staff stepped up.” The Salina office is now open on Tuesday and Thursday nights, as well as Saturday mornings.
With additional space, volunteers have assisted in opening a small thrift store Thursday, Friday and on Saturday mornings to help generate additional revenue. “The primary purpose of items donated is to be available by voucher to individuals in need, first and foremost,” Martin said. “Always, always that comes first. This is another way to bring people together and generate some money. We’ve been very excited about that.”
Another expansion with the new location includes allowing the PSC (Pregnancy Service Center) to park their mobile unit in the parking lot. This allows PSC to provide sonograms to expectant moms. Additionally, with a conference room, provides space for The Salina Adult Education Center (SAEC) to host English as a Second Language classes. “What do we do to get individuals to the point where they are able to be self-sufficient,” she said. “We want to look at how they get to the point where we help individuals get skills that are marketable so they can earn a living wage. I think next year we’ll be able to help individuals move on to the next step of eliminating barriers that are keeping them from getting a job.”
The evening included cocktail hour, dinner and a live auction, where Father Gale Hammerschmidt acted as the color announcer for auctioneer Mark Baxa. Items included a Spanish wine dinner, shrimp boil, K-State football package, Christmastime on the Plaza in Kansas City and the impromptu auctioning off of a fidget spinner made for Bishop Edward Weisenburger by Beloit residents. “I feel like the involvement of Father Gale and the Bishop helped to interject some fun and laughter into the evening as we gathered to raise funds for a serious event,” Martin said.
Bishop Edward Weisenburger acknowledged the plethora of clergy present at the fundraiser. “I really don’t have to ever work with the priests to bring them on board for Catholic Charities,” he said. “We have such incredible priests and deacons in our diocese. I just get out of the way and watch the incredible, good work that they do.” Father Hammerschmidt said during his time as pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Junction City, the parish would get approached by individuals who were directed to the parish from Catholic Charities. “Whenever people would come into our office, people would say they have already contacted Catholic Charities and they would contribute a little bit and ask if (the parish) could contribute the rest,” Father Hammerschmidt said. “I would always say yes. If Catholic Charities is on board, then I am on board.”
In addition to the regular auction items, the “itemless auction item” was the new solar panels for Catholic Charities. “I like the influence of Pope Francis in Laudato si and I love the idea that once this is paid for up front, all of the dollars we won’t be paying on energy bills, but will go to our mission,” he said. “It’s not just a gift for now. It keeps on giving.” Martin said the panels will cost about $230,000. In all, about $115,000 has been pledged or collected toward the project. The auction item raised about $57,000 of the amount.
Moving forward, Martin said she would like to expand services. “Now that we have a shower, we’re looking at having it open at certain times to allow individuals, especially the homeless, to come and take a shower,” she said. Martin said moving forward, Catholic Charities will expand existing collaborations and embrace new ones. “I see expanding free counseling services to victims in need in the future,” she said “We have also been working with the Salina Coalition for Trafficked Persons, especially as it ties into our immigration program. I can see more of that in the future.”
Another possible collaboration is a winter shelter with multiple agencies in Salina.
“There’s more to come,” Martin said. “There’s more hard work to come. I am excited for the future. I hope you join me in that excitement.”