By Kathleen Swift
Photos by Artistic Expressions Photography

Not all heroes wear capes; although, now days most of them do wear masks, and you can find a hero working in a hospital or in a grocery store or driving a truck. A hero might be a retired special education teacher with two daughters, grandchildren and a lifetime of helping under her belt.

Rose Mary Ferguson is one of those hometown heroes. Serving others has been her life. Not only did she teach in the Carl Junction Schools for 27 years, she has volunteered with the Girl Scouts, Carl Junction Youth Athletic Association, Jasper County Shelter Facility Board, FFA Advisory Board for CJHS, Ladies Ministry at Fir Road Christian Church and Carl Junction Athletic Booster Club.

One of Rose Mary’s volunteer efforts is working alongside other volunteers with the Helping Hands Ministries in Carl Junction. She was getting ready to retire and was looking for something to become a part of that would serve others.

“I like being able to help people, and I always thought if I started an organization, I would call it Helping Hands. When I was asked if I might be interested in working with this ministry, the name Helping Hands seemed like a sign to me,” said Rose Mary.

“Carl Junction Helping Hands Ministries came together through the Carl Junction Ministerial Alliance to provide a central location for people within the Carl Junction R-1 School District that are food-insecure. We work with the school backpack program and the churches providing a centralized location for distributing clothing and food.”

Tracie Skaggs, director of public relations for Carl Junction Schools commented, “We are so blessed to have a partner like Rose Mary and the Helping Hands Ministry. Rose Mary is always willing to try to help families beyond what we can do as a school. She makes sure she can meet families personally when there is an emergency that can’t wait until the center is open. She is a friend to everyone and will move mountains to help another person.”

“We are members of Ozark Food Harvest, a part of Feeding America, which is a food source for food pantries and kitchens. We are able to order canned goods and dry goods from them once a month with delivery the following week. We also have the opportunity to order banana boxes, which are filled with other items that have been donated to Ozark Food Harvest. I like to call them Christmas boxes because it is always exciting to see what surprises have been sent to us. We also order health and beauty boxes along with paper products.

“Through Ozark Food Harvest, we also partner with 26th Street Neighborhood Market. Volunteers pick up donations three days a week, which we share with our clients. Through Walmart, we are able to provide frozen meat and fresh fruit and vegetables when available. We usually receive over 500-plus pounds of donated food weekly.”

Rose Mary noted Helping Hands serves approximately 250 people a month. Interestingly, about 30 percent of their clients use the service just once during a year.  

“Then they get back on their feet and don’t need help. Only about 10 percent of our clients, usually the elderly or disabled, need the service each month.

“Our only requirement is that the client live within the Carl Junction R-1 School District. Clients are able to request food items from our shopping list based on the number of family members living within the household. Visits are recorded in Charity Tracker, which is a computer program where other subscribing helping agencies are able to see where and when assistance has been provided to the client. Our clients can receive food assistance once every 30 days. We also have clothing where the client can come in every two weeks. Information we need from a client is:  names, birthdates and social security numbers of all people living within the household. The client must also provide proof of residence through a utility bill or rent receipt. Other questions they need to answer is what is their phone number, do they receive food stamps, do they receive assistance from any other sources.

“We have had to make changes due to COVID-19. In May, we were open during regular hours. Due to the number of volunteers, we could only let one person in at a time. During April, we did not accept donations; we were able to start receiving donations again in the middle of May.”

Rose Mary hopes to continue to work with Helping Hands Ministries for a long time. After all, sorting clothes and food, enrolling clients and helping pick up donated food is the work of many hometown heroes.