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Kearney senior guard Brennan Watkins during a boys basketball game in the William Jewell Holiday Classic high school tournament Dec. 30 at the Mabee Center in Liberty.

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Operation Safe unites Clay County to prepare for COVID-19 vaccinations
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NORTH KANSAS CITY — A Northland mass COVID-19 vaccination site will get off the ground this week thanks to the state’s adjustment to vaccine allocations announced Monday, Feb. 1.

According to information from the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, North Kansas City and Liberty hospitals, along with Truman Medical Center were selected to receive just over half of the state’s weekly vaccine allocation in the Kansas City region for the month during the weeks of Feb. 1 and Feb. 15 as distribution is available. The HCA Health System and St. Luke’s Health System will receive allocations for the weeks of Feb. 8 and Feb. 22.

“The hospitals included in the first phase of this plan were selected for their ability to rapidly begin community vaccination efforts on a large scale,” said Herb B. Kuhn, Missouri Hospital Association president and CEO.

The first vaccination clinic will take place Thursday to Saturday, Feb. 4 to 6, at Cerner World Headquarters, 2800 Rock Creek Parkway in North Kansas City. Vaccines will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on designated dates. Appointments are required, and walk-ups will not be accommodated. Those coming to get vaccines must wear a surgical or N-95 mask.

Those who completed the Clay County Public Health Center interest form on the center’s website and who are prioritized under the state’s current vaccine tier system will receive invitations to sign up for an appointment. Invitations will be distributed in the order of form completion.

Ahead of the state’s allocation adjustment, efforts to create a mass vaccine site in the county were underway as part of Operation Safe, the name given to the Clay County coalition formed to vaccinate residents.

The coalition consists of Liberty and North Kansas City Hospital, the local health center, Cerner, William Jewell College and the cities of Liberty, Gladstone, Smithville, Kearney, North Kansas City and Excelsior Springs. The goal of the coalition is to provide eligible individuals who work or live in Clay County an opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible within the state’s tiered structure.

In a press conference Monday, Feb. 1, CCPHC Director Gary Zaborac said efforts will include rapid deployment of doses, but he also urged patience as the state works to fill vaccine orders.

“Along with continuing to wear masks, keeping physical distance and washing hands, vaccination is one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” said Zaborac.

Initially, the coalition anticipates vaccinating up to 4,500 individuals every other week and is prepared to increase the volume to 3,500 per day as more vaccines become available.

“We can’t stress it enough, it is important that every eligible person in our community gets vaccinated when the opportunity is available to them. Vaccination is the best way to protect your family from becoming ill and the fastest way for our community to return to the way of life we care so deeply about,” said Liberty Hospital CEO David Feess.

North Kansas City Hospital President and CEO Stephen Reintjes Sr. said the hospital is committed to hope and healing. He and Todd Beardman, who serves as chief medical information officer, commended the collaboration and said they are happy to bring the hospital’s expertise to the table.“It is vital that the community joins together to do our part to beat COVID-19 and support our health care workers as they rapidly rollout the vaccine,” said Cerner’s Eva Karp, senior vice president and chief clinical and patient safety officer. “Cerner is honored to share our facilities, technology and expertise with North Kansas City Hospital, Liberty Hospital and the Clay County Public Health Center to help those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine receive it.”

“The Northland is very strong,” Zaborac said, “especially in its power of collaboration.”

Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton said the city will provide administrative logistics as well as health professionals.

“If needed as well, we will chip in financially,” he said.

Gladstone Mayor Jean Moore said the city will provide vaccinators, barricades and other resources as requested.

“As Kansas City Public Health Director Rex Archer has said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is a very long one,” Zaborac said. “Allocation and capacity will improve.”

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Annunciation Church in Kearney turns 35
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KEARNEY — Back in 1986, Bishop John J. Sullivan consecrated the then newly-built Catholic Church of the Annunciation on North Jefferson Street.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the parish community celebrated the 35th anniversary of that dedication. Members of the parish gathered for a special Mass, “On the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church,” according to a press release.

Catholic Christians have been worshiping in Kearney since at least 1881, when the Official Catholic Directory for that year explains that Catholics were served through parishes in Liberty. Catholics in Kearney and Holt continued to gather and worship through the years, eventually organizing as the Kearney-Holt Catholic Community. This group petitioned Bishop Sullivan to become a formal parish in 1983, which the bishop granted, naming the parish Church of the Annunciation. On March 21, 1984, members of the parish gather in a formal “Entrustment to Our Lady.”

For most of the parish history, even before formally becoming a parish, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood provided assistance to the parish, either by offering sacramental services or pastoral leadership. Pastoral leadership of the parish returned to the direct responsibility of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on July 1, 2020.

The principal celebrant of the anniversary Mass was the associate pastor, Fr. Bill Fox and the previous pastor, Fr. Al Ebach who preached the homily. The first pastor of Church of the Annunciation, Fr. Ken Criqui, who is currently pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Carrolton and Sacred Heart Mission in Norborne, and the current parish administrator, Fr. Terrell Finnell, pastor at Good Shepherd Church, Smithville, concelebrated the Mass.

In his homily, Ebach noted that the parish was begun “because people wanted to worship, they wanted to participate with each other as a community of faith.” Continuing, Ebach said, “This is a great history, not just putting up the bricks or whatever else makes up this church, but it’s about people who wanted to be a worshiping community.”

The Mass was livestreamed, and given COVID-19 concerns, former parish administrator Sr. Colette Baldwin, and former pastor Fr. John Wolf, participated virtually. Both offered greetings by writing. Baldwin wrote, “Parishioners have shown that being followers of Christ is your ministry and mission still to this day.” Wolf wrote, “Annunciation parish was formed from the groundwork of community and a desire for the Eucharist.”

In his closing remarks, Fox thanked the community for their “bold witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In lieu of a reception, cookies baked by parishioners and wrapped individually, were given out as they left church. The recording of the Mass is still available at the Church of the Annunciation’s YouTube channel.

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Liberty bank branch robbed
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LIBERTY —The Liberty branch of Capitol Federal Bank, 1911 Star Drive, was robbed Tuesday, Feb. 2.

The Kansas City office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently seeking community help in identifying the woman seen in security footage. The suspect is described as woman in hers 30, standing about 5-fot-6 to 5-foot-8, wearing a dark coat, pajama pants and carrying a multicolored handbag.

According to law enforcement sources, the woman entered the bank with a gun and gave a teller a note demanding money. The suspect left on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash.

This bank robbery was the second in as many days in the Northland that is being investigated by the FBI.

On Monday, Feb. 1, Central Bank off U.S. Highway 69 in Claycomo was also robbed. The bank is about a 15-minute drive from the Liberty bank location. A description of the suspect from that robbery matches the description of the woman from the Liberty bank robbery.

The robbery of the Claycomo bank also occurred in similar fashion as the Liberty case, with a woman wearing a black coat and carrying a multicolored purse showing a teller a gun and passing the teller a note demanding cash. 

No injuries were reported in either incident.

Anyone with information about either robbery, is asked to call FBI KC at 512-8200 or the TIPS Hotline at 474-TIPS (8477). A reward is possible for information that may be significant to the cases.

More details on this developing story will be published as they become available.

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Library system challenges adults to read
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Mid-Continent Public Library System is encouraging adults across the Kansas City metro to participate in its annual Winter Reading Challenge now through March 15.

Adults should read five books in two months with the promise of an exclusive coffee mug given to all those who complete the challenge as well as the chance to win a trip to St. Louis (which can be taken any time in 2021), courtesy of Drury Hotels, according to a Mid-Continent press release.

The Challenge, open to those 18 and older, is now in its eighth year of promoting leisure reading among adults.

“The past year has been incredibly stressful, and one great way to combat stress is reading. Reading offers tremendous benefits to people of all ages, but oftentimes it gets put on the back burner for adults with busy day-to-day schedules,” said Amy Fisher, manager of MCPL’s Information and Reader Services Department. “The Winter Reading Challenge offers adults a chance to reclaim those benefits and enjoy being part of a fun, citywide movement.”

This year’s Winter Reading Challenge theme is “Celebrate Missouri,” commemorating the state’s bicentennial. Included among the library’s suggested reads for the 2021 Challenge are books about Missouri as well as those penned by Missouri authors. In keeping with this theme, participants who log their five books by March 15 will not only earn the yearly commemorative mug, but they will also be entered into a random drawing for a chance to win a three-night trip to St. Louis, courtesy of Drury Hotels, which can be taken any time in 2021.

The grand prize trip includes accommodations at a Drury Hotels property, four St. Louis Zoo Adventure Passes, and admission to The Magic House, National Blues Museum, and the Saint Louis Science Center OMNIMAX Theater, according to the press release.

In addition to logging books, participants can make the most out of their involvement by attending virtual books groups and events, such as author presentations, through the Winter Reading Challenge Facebook page.

For more information about the Winter Reading Challenge, including a full list of rules, more details about the prize, and a suggested reading list compiled by MCPL staff, visit mymcpl.org/WinterReading. Readers are encouraged to stay connected with their fellow Challenge participants by posting on social media about their experiences with #mcplwinterread.