Saturday, November 26, 2016

CAC celebrates a giving community this holiday season

by Mary Wilson

Community Assistance Council is thankful this holiday season, and volunteers and employees have been celebrating all year. Marking 40 years in 2016, CAC held an anniversary celebration in September with over 200 people in attendance. Mary Russell, an original board member and community leader from 1976, was on-hand and recognized as an honored guest. The largest single fundraiser to date for CAC, the event netted approximately $20,000.

This year, after 33 years with CAC, executive director Carol Bird Owsley announced her retirement. Owsley received a personal proclamation from the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and Councilmen Scott Taylor and Kevin McManus declared Friday, September 30, 2016, Carol Bird Owsley Day in Kansas City.

With Owsley’s retirement, CAC announced April Diaz as the new Executive Director. Diaz holds a master’s in social work and African studies, and a bachelor’s in political science and sociology, all from the University of Illinois. She also holds advanced certifications in nonprofit management, fundraising management, nonprofit board of education, meditation and human services management.

Prior to CAC, Diaz worked in donor relations for United Way of Greater Kansas City. She also served previously as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), as the assistant director of a community center in Illinois, and as a graduate research assistant at the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois.

“It’s been good having April on board and having a fresh set of eyes on everything,” said Pam Meek, CAC Programs Coordinator.

Within the last year, CAC has opened the SAFE pantry, started a Happy Bottoms program, and was named Harvesters Agency of the Year.

“We’ve been blessed because we’ve had so much community support, especially on food drives, the past few months,” said Meek. “It’s amazing, it seems like this year, everybody is hearing about us.”

With the community support, CAC was able to help 98 families over the Thanksgiving holiday with food baskets. The Holiday Store is set for December 12-16, and CAC is currently collecting donations of gifts, stocking stuffers and gift wrap. Interested volunteers can serve as guides, food basket packers and shelf stockers. Shifts are from 9 a.m. to noon and noon to 3 p.m. each day.

CAC will help around 120 families with holiday this season. Suggested gift items include toys and games, household items, small appliances, wallets and purses, bedding, cologne, small tools, crafts, electronics, and sporting goods.

“If it’s a gift you would get for someone in your family, someone else would likely want it too,” said Meek. “We are always in need of food items. Anything that would contribute to a holiday meal always works.”

Looking toward the future of CAC, Meek added that they will be on the hunt for some architectural designers to help coordinate their upcoming move to Burke Elementary. Currently, CAC has just over 5000 square feet of space. When they move, they will double their inside square footage and have access to grounds for potential gardens and outdoor use. According to the Hickman Mills School District timeline, CAC will have access to their portion of the property beginning on August 1, 2017.

“With construction and other projects we’d like to have done, I’d imagine we won’t be in there and fully functioning until 2018,” said Diaz.

Potential volunteers for the Holiday Store, donation pickup drivers, Meals on Wheels drivers, food pantry workers or any other projects can contact CAC by calling 816-763-3277, or visit them online at

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