KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It all started a few years ago when four suburban women were together talking about their 40th birthdays. Since then, Project 39 has collected thousands of items for distribution to needy mothers.
“It’s a blessing,” said JeKeise Williams, a mother with two young sons who live in Juniper Gardens, a public housing complex here and has benefited from the program. “They really came through.”
Williams last week was at the administrative offices of The Family Conservancy, which provides services to at-risk children and their families throughout the metropolitan area.
She had just finished helping unload a 40-foot semi-trailer that had hauled Project 39 donations from a collection point at the Overland Park headquarters of YRC Worldwide Inc., a trucking company.
The link to YRC came through Angie Davids, director of marketing for the company. She is also one of the Project 39 founders, along with fellow Leawood residents Jennifer Bedell, Angie Smith and Lisa Foley.
All four women were on hand at the YRC offices as company volunteers loaded diapers, wipes, laundry detergent and other items into the trailer. The company had emblazoned the trailer with pictures of kids and families along with The Family Conservancy logo.
The four founders recalled that when the faced that milestone birthday, each yearned to make a difference in the lives of moms less fortunate than they.
They said they also wanted to teach their own children about the power of giving back to the community.
Bedell had done graphic design work for The Family Conservancy and learned of the huge need among mothers served by the agency.
“So it was a perfect fit,” Bedell said.
The four women hit upon idea. What about getting their friends to host parties in their homes? Instead of hostess gifts, organizers would ask guests to bring the staples required to care for infants and toddlers.
The result was called the Mother of All Happy Hours, where hostesses would each hold their events on the Thursday before Mother’s Day.
The event started last year with 16 parties. This year, the number of parties was doubled and the events were held at locations throughout the metropolitan area.
Total donations included more than 16,000 diapers and nearly 33,000 wipes. Project 39 leaders also estimated they collected enough detergent for more than 5,500 loads of laundry. Cash donations totaled more than $7,000.
The large haul is what led to the convoy of heavily loaded carts that volunteers wheeled across the YRC parking lot Wednesday. The workers hoisted the items into the trailer.
“I hope it continues to grow,” said Brenda Thomas, one of the YRC employees helping load the trailer. “I tell you, those kids need it.”
A reverse operation unfolded at The Family Conservancy office a little while later where about a dozen volunteers made quick work of unloading the inventory. They emptied the trailer in about 15 minutes.
The Family Conservancy distributed the products to families living at Juniper Gardens and at the St. Margaret’s Park public housing complex. Families that participate in parenting classes earn credits, called “parenting dollars,” that they redeem for the donated supplies.
Some of the moms don’t have a safe car seat to transport newborns home from the hospital, Bedell said. The Project 39 founders have also heard about people diluting laundry detergent to make it last a little longer.
Stories like that are what drive the organizers, Bedell said.
“You’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never in all my days ever had to dilute my laundry detergent,’ and I’m so blessed and so thankful for that,” she said. “I can’t fathom walking in their shoes.”
At The Family Conservancy drop-off, Carmon Cain was one of the first workers to climb aboard the trailer. The Juniper Gardens resident said she regularly used parenting dollars to help care for her 2-month old son.
She said she was thankful for the work that the Project 39 organizers did on behalf of her and the other moms.
“Tell them, ‘don’t stop, keep ‘em coming,’” Cain said. “It really helps us out.”
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