KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Rescue Mission (KCRM) usually asks for all the help it can get to run its programs, but this Thanksgiving, the homeless shelter is turning down a certain group of volunteers based on their religious affiliation.
For the past two years, the Kansas City Atheists Coalition (KCAC) has volunteered with the KCRM, an outwardly Christian organization, to deliver meals on Thanksgiving. So Joshua Hyde, the coalition's president, was surprised to learn their help wasn't needed this year.
"They sent us an e-mail indicating they would be adding religious literature to the meal they're delivering and that we would not be, according to them, a good fit for the program," said Hyde.
While volunteering in past years, the KCAC had worn t-shirts identifying their affiliation. Julie Larocco, the chief developmental officer for the shelter said it has never made a difference before, but this year the shelter is adding a religious scripture to its meals. She said it seems contradictory to have Atheists deliver a Christian message.
"It made sense to us that it wouldn't really be representative of the message to have Atheists deliver those because if somebody did want to know more right then, how could they respond? They wouldn't be able to respond," said Larocco.
"We did wear shirts identifying our organization, but we never went out of our way to let them know we were Atheists or we never asked them how they felt about Atheists. We'd give them the meals, wish them a happy Thanksgiving and be on to the next house," said Hyde.
Larocco says there's more that went in to the decision to turn down the KCAC volunteers.
"This is probably the favorite outreach we do and so this year we asked them to step aside so that other people could have an opportunity to do it. Their group is quite large and it actually was taking up about a quarter of the volunteer positions that we had," she explained.
Whatever the case, Hyde said he wishes his group could have kept up their Thanksgiving tradition at the rescue mission for a third year in a row.
"For us, we really enjoy the opportunity to show how people of religious belief and Atheists can come together to help people despite that religious difference," said Hyde.
The KCRM said it's already welcomed the KCAC to volunteer at any other events in the future. As for the KCAC, it says media attention from this has actually helped them, as the group received several invitations to volunteer with other religious organizations for the holiday.