Since The Leo Center opened its doors April 5, hundreds of people have come to the facility seeking aid -- everything from medical care to food to help paying their bills.
That's great news to the center's organizers, a partnership of Lawrence-area churches, businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals.
But it's also a problem, because it takes lots of money and volunteers to keep the new center -- located on the first level of the former Riverfront Mall -- operating.
"We have a number of churches that are providing food and money, but we literally have to turn several people away each day, and that's a heartbreaking thing to do," said the Rev. Paul Gray, pastor of Heartland Community Church, 619 Vt.
The paid staff and volunteers of the center's Heartland Medical Clinic, which offers free or discounted care to those without health insurance, are swamped with people seeking help.
In April, the clinic saw 397 patients and gave out 734 prescriptions of medication. In May, 413 patients came to the clinic, and 769 prescriptions were given out.
"It's what we had hoped we would do, but it's also brought about some strong needs that we have," said Gray, who serves on The Leo Center's board of directors and is acting chief executive officer.
Facing high demand
The Leo Center, which organizers view as a partnership with the Lawrence community, offers various services.
The Christian-based, all-in-one social services facility occupies 7,800 square feet at the former Riverfront Mall's easternmost end.
Aside from housing the medical clinic, it is also home to a new food pantry, operated as a partnership between the center's participating Lawrence churches and the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp., known as ECKAN.
The Leo Center houses a new entity called Love Lawrence, which works to better coordinate the benevolence ministries of churches across the city.
And the center offers free marriage and family counseling, as well as a wide range of life skills and continuing-education classes such as job readiness, interviewing, vocational training and Christian 12-step programs.
The clinic provides professional medical attention to children and adults, including preventive, chronic and acute health care. It serves both insured and uninsured patients and accepts third-party payment.
These programs are up and running, but in some cases they are maxed out, needing an infusion of volunteers, money and donations of food.
Providing free medication to those who need it has proven especially draining on the center's resources. Some of the medicine is supplied by pharmaceutical representatives, but the rest of it must be purchased from Lawrence pharmacies.
"Our expense for medication for those who can't afford to pay is considerably higher than we had anticipated," Gray said.
The center has had to borrow money in order to keep buying medicine to provide for the surge of needy patients.
"What we need are donations of money and medication. We're glad to have that problem (of high demand); it's just a need that we have right now," he said.
Looking for committed people
The Leo Center has come a long way in a short time, but it still faces an upward battle.
"For us to fully staff our clinic and meet the needs of the community, we need about $50,000 per month. What we would like to see would be a thousand people willing to commit to $50 a month (in donations). That would do it," Gray said.
That would allow the center, each month, to do the following: medically serve 1,500 patients; provide food and financial help to 150 families; offer life-skills training to about 370 people; and provide job training for 10 clients.
The center is bringing in about $18,000 per month. The key to boosting that amount is making the center's needs known.
Despite the financial challenges, Gray said he was optimistic.
"I absolutely am. I believe that by Jan. 1 (2005), we will be fully funded," he said.
Facility seeks support
The Leo Center, a Christian-based, nonprofit social service facility, is on the lower level of the former Riverfront Mall, at the easternmost end of the building.
The center is seeking financial support, volunteers for a variety of tasks and donations of nonperishable food.
Checks may be made out to the Leo Center, Suite 100, 1 Riverfront Plaza, Lawrence, Kan., 66044.
For more information or to volunteer, call the center at 841-7297.
To volunteer for the food pantry, operated as a partnership between the center and the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. (ECKAN), call 841-3357.