For 22 years, the Sisters of St. Francis in Independence have been reaching around the world to help others. That program – one huge shipping container of goods at a time sent to people in the United States and overseas – is growing and asking for the community’s support.

“We’re giving people the opportunity to support people around the world, and we’re being more public about it,” said Michael Straughn, executive director of the Franciscan Mission Warehouse.

The focus is in three areas: medical supplies, medical equipment and educational materials. For instance, unused medical goods such as scalpels and syringes can be recovered from partially used procedure kits. Linens that are a bit worn or stained for an American hospital but that still can be used – and welcomed – elsewhere can be folded and baled by volunteers and sent out.

“And that’s a pretty high-demand item,” Straughn said.

It’s much the same with equipment. A relatively old hospital bed by American standards – costing several thousand dollars – will be replaced. That bed would likely go to a landfill, but it still can have years of good service elsewhere.

“Technology changes all the time,” Straughn said.

So Paul Wilson, director of warehouse operations, works with some area hospitals to take that equipment and give it new life.

“Everything you would see in a hospital or doctor’s office, you’ll see here,” Straughn said.

Sister Andrea of the Sisters of St. Francis said it’s good to save landfill space.

“But even more important than that,” she said, “it’s great to be saving thousands of lives.”


Small steps

The program began with a simple request.

Sister Andrea was a missionary in Brazil for several years and came back to the United States in 1995. People she knew in Brazil asked for one thing that could make life noticeably better – a crate of Pepto Bismol.

“And I said if possible I will send that,” she said.

It would make more sense and only cost a little more, she discovered, to go ahead and put the Pepto Bismol and other goods into a 20-foot container.

“So that’s what we started doing. But I still planned only one a year,” she said.

But things picked up. In the first five years, they sent 24 containers, all to Brazil. In 2000, the sisters put up the warehouse at 2100 N. Noland Road in Independence. They also run a retreat center there.

Then came a crossroads moment. In the second half of 2000, they were set to fill and send eight containers to Brazil. These were household supplies, furniture, school supplies, cleaning supplies and food such as pasta, flour, beans and powdered milk.

They ran into a major hangup. The containers had to be shipped in December and January, but the first four got caught up in government paperwork in Brazil. Now Sister Andrea was sitting on four more containers.

She told God, “I have no idea where to send them.”

In February 2001, an earthquake struck El Salvador.

“And immediately we got calls from four or five parishes in the metro area who were doing mission trips.”

She said God responded to her: “You were working in Brazil. I shut that door for you, but now all these windows are open.”

More destinations came into view: the Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador. In 22 years, the warehouse has shipped more than 280 containers to 28 countries and more than a dozen American states.

Kenya is one of those countries.

Magdaline Thiga is a nurse practitioner, running a clinic that serves 150 people a day with services from child welfare to birthing or medical emergencies. Care is scarce, and many patients come from great distances.

“It helps a lot of people,” said Thiga, who is in the United States for a few weeks this fall.

A friend referred her to the Franciscan Mission Warehouse. A container of goods should be headed to her clinic after the first of the year.

A container can hold perhaps $400,000 in donated good, shipped for $12,000 to $15,000. A new clinic alone can touch thousands of lives a year for many years.

The warehouse also works with dozens of groups in the area, including the Salvation Army’s Crossroads shelter in Independence, local schools, food pantries and community centers.

For instance, it works with the Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri, which serves Buckner and other communities, and recently sent it 200 mattresses.

More support has come to the warehouse as it has grown.

“But the big part of it was from the community itself,” Sister Andrea said.

She said she had no specific steps in mind when this started.

“We’re just going to keep on doing it,” she said.


Chance to help

A chance to help is coming up. The warehouse’s fifth annual spaghetti dinner is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Mike Onka Community Hall, 11520 Putnam St. in Sugar Creek. The food includes salad, spaghetti, meatballs, sausage and dessert, and carryout is available. There’s also a bake sale, an auction and live music. Call 816-994-2659 or go to

A couple of anniversaries have come around, too. One hundred and twenty-five years ago a small group of nuns left Grimmentstein, Switzerland, to escape persecution and came to Nevada, Missouri, to establish a new convent. It was 35 years ago that the sisters moved to Independence.