Community Services League working on Christmas store alternatives

By Bill Althaus

Doug Cowan is well aware of the many needs individuals and families have in Eastern Jackson County.

As the president and CEO of the Community Services League, he wraps up an early morning video meeting in his Independence office as an elderly gentleman is using a ramshackle suitcase as a pillow on the sidewalk outside of the Noland Road office in Independence.

“Just hoping to get some grub,” the man says, as he uses a homemade cane and slowly makes his way to the front office door. “Tough to be hungry, ya’ know?”

Melodie Chrisman (right), on-site manager of the Community Services League in Blue Springs and Oak Grove, looks over presents at a past CSL Christmas Store along with volunteers Marcia Justus, left, and Dixie Bozarth. The Community Services League is looking for alternative to deliver that service this year.

That’s something Cowan knows all too well, as he and his staff are preparing for the upcoming holiday season that will be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With Thanksgiving and Christmas – yes, Christmas – right around the corner, as far as the preparation begins, we are planning on something meaningful and helpful, although it will be different than years past,” Cowan said.

“We’re not the only organization that will be impacted by the pandemic. We will still provide meals for families during Thanksgiving, like we have in years past, we just have to determine how to do it and still deal with the mandates of social distancing and other restrictions.”

Cowan is working with officials in Independence, Grain Valley, Buckner, Oak Grove and Blue Springs to provide ways to serve their communities in a safe and orderly fashion.

He’s also facing another dilemma, which could make the biggest impact when it comes to serving families in need during the holidays.

“My church is at less than 50 percent capacity,” Cowan said, “and churches, civic clubs and the workplace are our bread and butter sources during campaigns to collect food and gifts during the Christmas season.”

The annual Community Services League Christmas Store events, which serve hundreds of people, will not happen this year because of the pandemic.

“I want to be very clear on this,” Cowan said. “We will not be able to have our Christmas Store like we have in years past where folks can come and select gifts for their families. But we will come up with some plan to help during Christmas.”

“For many of our families, these are the only gifts they might have, and we’re going to work out some kind of a plan. We are talking about offering gift cards they can use to purchase gifts.”

'I want to be very clear on this,' Community Services League President and CEO Doug Cowan said. 'We will not be able to have our Christmas Store like we have in years past where folks can come and select gifts for their families. But we will come up with some plan to help during Christmas.'

“We are also talking about a drive-through Christmas Store where they can still pick out gifts, but do it in a safe way where they aren’t near anyone else.”

As he talks about Christmas, Cowan’s voice softens as he mentions the holiday season and children.

“Christmas is a big thing for kids – a really big thing,” he said, “we want kids to wake up to presents. They may not know their parents are close to losing their homes because they’ve have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, so I think it’s important to:

“One, make sure there are presents for the kids.

“And two, make sure their parents know we offer all kinds of counseling and assistance that will help them keep their homes. That might be the best present for their parents, the peace of mind of knowing they will have a home this holiday season. And we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”