Sister Andrea Kantner's simple desire to ship some stomach medicine led to the Franciscan Mission Warehouse in Independence, which is now becoming part of a national partnership and receiving international acclaim.
Sister Kantner, along with Gary White of Water.org, will receive the International Peace Award this evening during a ceremony at the Auditorium as part of the Community of Christ World Conference.
Franciscan Mission Warehouse takes in donations of surplus medical supplies and gathers funds to ship those supplies to developing parts of the world.
“It's a great honor for our community and a great honor for the people that work with us,” Sister Kantner said. “They're very pleased that the work they're doing has meaning to other people.”
Having served as a missionary in Brazil since 1977, Sister Kantner witnessed the stomach issues many people had. Pepto-Bismol was ridiculously expensive to buy there, and getting shipments of the pink medicine far up the Amazon River was quite precarious. In 1995, she contacted Mo-Kan Container Services in Kansas City and learned that she could send a 20-foot container packed full of supplies for the same cost and with less risk.
She took that as a challenge for her community to fill containers.
“When people knew we were doing that, we started getting household supplies, things from garage sales,” Sister Kantner said. Little trinkets which had no practical value but simply made people feel they had a little greater status, also found their way into containers.
Twenty-two of them went to Brazil, she said, until that connection became untenable. By that time, in 2000, the Franciscan Mission Warehouse was morphing into taking just medical supplies and outgrew its space at Mo-Kan, leading to the 9,000-square foot warehouse on the sisters' land in northern Independence.
In all, they've sent 330 shipments, which now cost about $15,000 to ship. But one shipment has value of anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 at its destination and can provide enough to equip a 30-bed hospital.
“They're going to places that didn't have supplies at all,” Sister Kantner said. “Normally they had a building, but nothing to put in it.”
Sometimes there are customs delays or complications getting shipments across land to their ultimate destination. Sister Kantner hopes that will be a thing of the past now, as the Warehouse has started to partner with Project C.U.R.E. (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment) based in suburban Denver, the world's largest provider of medical supplies to developing areas. It has the people and methods in place to assure supplies get where they're meant to go.
“They would like us to be a collection center for them,” she said.
In addition to the tremendous aid provided to other countries, Franciscan Mission Warehouse has become a favorite place for many of its regular volunteers, Sister Kantner said. Church groups from various denominations have volunteer days at the warehouse, and the group of regulars – many of them retirees – remains strong through word of mouth.
“You come out here, this is a place where you know you're working for a great cause,” she said. “They really love it, for them it's really not a job. This is a family; this is not your normal warehouse.
“It's given them a whole new life, and you know that whatever you're doing is saving lives.”
“We ask (recipients) to send back pictures, and the volunteers remember packing things or receiving (donations) in the pictures. This is our role, we're invested in it, and the people who receive it are now our friends.”