Carl Stafford, who works 12-hour shifts at the Kansas City Health Department, has lived in Gregory Ridge his entire life. When he was young, he would hike the banks of his neighborhood’s Fox Hollow Creek, which flows into the Blue River just outside the neighborhood’s boundaries. Carl is no stranger to the idea that environmental issues involve justice and health. “These banks have always snagged Kansas City’s trash — no one usually notices but us.”
The storm sewers of central Kansas City empty into natural creeks and streams in the west portion of the Blue River Watershed. Trash on the ground in the triangle between Leawood, Shawnee and Waldo ends up in Fox Hollow Creek, and
eventually, in the Blue River. This hidden but pervasive waste disposal problem affects outdoor exercisers like Carl, harboring crime and blight in KC and other cities downstream on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Organizations like Heartland Conservation Alliance and the Blue River Watershed Association are dedicating their resources to widespread public education about the waste problem, but what can the church do? Our role has often been most effective when care for a subject is shared from person to person.
Fortunately, there is plenty of care for the environment ready to be voiced by residents of Kansas City’s east side. Being present enough to listen is the first step toward enacting care for the issue alongside those most affected.
This past October, Church of the Good Shepherd, St. Augustine’s and St. Andrew’s parishes combined their efforts to work alongside Carl and other neighborhood volunteers on a 4-acre public trail and food forest project in Carl’s neighborhood. Though the property is owned by nonprofit organization Clement Waters, the parcel has been dubbed by locals as The Retreat at Gregory Ridge. The project is expected to pass into local ownership after the property is developed fully into a
public service area with exploration areas, food/medicine gardens and trails.
“It’s time to change Kansas City’s pattern of acting as if Black people, Indigenous people and People of Color would not be responsible as valuable property owners,” Clement Waters president Joy Ellsworth said during orientation at the October
event. “We’re changing that pattern on this side of town, where those with money and power long ago decided that Black people needed to all live.” She referenced Kansas City’s 1940s racial covenant and redlining development practices that
created west-east residential racial concentrations still visible today.
Joy began the volunteer efforts that day with a prayer for wisdom to discern honorable and healing ways forward, so as to resolve painful histories and find healthy ways of being together in the future. Volunteers then picked up litter together, removed invasive underbrush, and planted native or fruiting trees. The effort made way for wild plum, loganberry, chokeberry, elderberry, black raspberry, shortleaf pine, river birch, apple and pear trees to be planted. Funds from Church of the Good Shepherd provided the trees for planting. Twelve bags of trash were filled, and five bulky items were pulled from the waterway.
Parish volunteers’ efforts coincided with the Season of Creation, a series of events stewarded by the Creation Care ministry of the Episcopal Church, typically around the feast day of St. Francis. The ministry commits “to form and restore loving, liberating, life-giving relationships with all of Creation.” With Earth Day approaching, plenty of efforts are again ramping up to clean up Kansas City’s natural waterways.
Those looking to do more about environmental injustices in Kansas City have various year-round options. Kansas City Wildlands hosts various cleanups, seed collecting hikes and invasive bush removal workdays during all seasons. Clement Waters also hosts monthly Saturday morning volunteer sessions from Spring to Autumn.
Kansas City’s largest stream cleanup event, Project Blue River Rescue, took place on Saturday, April 2nd at Lakeside Nature Center, a wildlife rescue facility and nature museum near the Kansas City Zoo. Dozens of volunteers registered for the city-wide waterway cleanup event will checked in at Lakeside Nature Center. First volunteers received gloves, heavy-duty Stream Team trash bags, a free donut and a coffee. After working, all the crews converged upon Lakeside for a hot-dog lunch in thanks to volunteers for their service.
To get involved in eco-justice events for Earth Month, find one here, or call Joy Ellsworth at (913) 522-3529 to arrange one for your parish.