Nearby homicides prompt church to offer local teens free food, flu shots & gun locks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After seeing too many homicides happen all around it, an east side church is reaching out to teens to try to stop the shootings.

The Hip Hop and Health Festival seeks to make neighbors near 59th Street and Swope Parkway feel safer.

Covenant Presbyterian Church has worked to be a community hub, an anchor in the battle to stop violent crime.

Here neighbors visit in the morning for free fitness classes. The church organizes walks around the surrounding blocks three days a week, so it's important that everyone feel the area is safe.

But in July, the murder of a convenience store clerk at a gas station next door devastated the community. Less than two weeks later, another murder happened near the same corner. This time someone shot and killed an 18-year-old man while he sat in his sister's car.

Both of the deaths are examples of why the church believes it needs to do more to help young people avoid addictions, drugs, violence and depression.

"Our ministry from this church is to be a part of the community," faith community nurse Laura Hyland said. "That means we journey through good and bad. We hope that by being a community presence we can curtail some of the violence. Be a positive resource for all of our neighbors."

In addition to free health clinics and a food pantry for neighbors, the church on Saturday is hosting a Hip Hop and Health Festival specifically targeting teens. There will be live music, free food, free flu shots, and free gun locks, all in an effort to help connect with teens and show that people care about them.

If successful, the church will continue to host a teen connect night once a month, offering resources to help young people succeed in an environment where there are many factors working against them.