Food network

Topeka Catholic Charities Encourage Customers to Try Unfamiliar Foods

Needy customers at the Topeka Catholic Charities office often seemed confused when its pantry offered them unfamiliar foods.

These would include split peas, pork loin, pistachios and chickpeas, said Catholic Charities volunteer Pam Rooks. They were among the government-issued safe products that the bureau distributes.

Some customers had “no idea” what to do with them, Rooks told Capital-Journal.

She worried that many of these foods would not be eaten. So she set out to ensure that they were not thrown away but enjoyed.

The recipes are a great success

Pam Rooks smiles as she looks at the food items available for the needy Thursday in the pantry at the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas office, 234 S. Kansas Ave.

Rooks started volunteering in 2019 with Northeastern Kansas Catholic Charities.

She said she learned that more than a few of her customers were unaware of some of the healthy foods offered to them by The emergency food aid programa federal program for people who meet low-income criteria.

So Rooks went online and found recipes highlighting some of the foods that weren’t being eaten, and then started distributing those recipes in an effort to encourage customers to give the foods a chance.

She found recipes for savory dishes including Pulled Pork Tamale Casserole, Split Pea Soup, Chickpea Pistachio Soup, and Pistachio Pistachio Chickpeas.

These recipes have proven to be a big hit.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The office has made changes

Barbara Franklin, an employee of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, stores bread Wednesday morning.

Rooks was temporarily sent home in March 2020 and was unable to return until summer 2021.

By then, Anna Feldt had accepted a position as an administrative support specialist in the Topeka office of Catholic Charities.

Feldt also distributed recipes, for the same types of foods.

The local Catholic Charities office had removed its previous arrangement whereby commodity program clients could choose not to receive a certain food item, Feldt said.

Those customers — who number more than 500 every month — now have to accept them all, she said.

Displays appetizing photos

Volunteer Pam Rooks, left, and Anna Feldt, administrative support specialist for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, pack a box of emergency food program-specific food items Thursday.

Rooks and Feldt arranged it so that those patrons could now find printed recipes for various dishes in a plastic display case mounted just outside the pantry entrance of the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas office at 324 S. Kansas Ave.

Displays feature enticing full-color photos of finished meals.

One of the most popular recipes is making “chicken hand pies,” which can be cooked with chicken made available by TEFAP, Rooks said.

Customers of Catholic charities can acquire other ingredients for these pies – such as croissants, which can be folded to help make them – through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in which many of them participate as well, she said.

Catholic charities won’t have to relocate

Cans of different types of beans are labeled with protein signs to help Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas customers make informed decisions based on nutritional information.

Rooks said she enjoys volunteering with Catholic charities and encourages others to do the same. His office in Topeka can be reached by calling 785-233-6300.

Fortunately, Feldt said, Catholic Charities won’t need to relocate its office due to the upcoming project to rebuild and realign the nearby Polk-Quincy Overpass.

Let’s Help at 200 S. Kansas Ave. and the Topeka office at 215 SE Quincy for Harvesters, the Community Food Network, will have to relocate because their buildings are in the future alignment of the realigned overpass. But the Catholic Charities building is not.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at or 785-213-5934.