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East Kansas City barbershop hosts food drive after owner’s mother dies of COVID-19

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) —  Generosity flows from one east Kansas City neighborhood.

A Saturday morning public pantry extended a helping hand while honoring the spirit of a recent COVID-19 victim. One of Jackson County’s largest hotspots for coronavirus cases played host to a special food pantry that keeps the memory of a beloved mother alive.

Brooklyn Kutz, a popular East Kansas City barbershop, hasn’t been open since mid-March, but its owner hasn’t forgotten his neighbors in need. His late mother wouldn’t have it any other way.

“She was a true woman of God. She would feed anybody that came around,” owner Chris Swinton said. “I can remember times when she’d have one piece of gum, and if there were ten people around her, they were all going to get a piece of that gum.”

That generous attitude is the inspiration behind Saturday morning’s food drive, which was conducted by Urban Community Connections. Jessica Bentley-Johnson, the founder of that non-profit, is Lillie Swinton’s grandaughter. Urban Community Connections aspires to address various needs families may experience in their homes. Kansas City’s east side has experienced more reported COVID-19 cases than any other section of the city.

“We understand the dynamics and the impact the virus is having,” Bentley-Johnson said. “A lot of people are out of work. In those families where the parents are working, their kids are home non-stop. The kids aren’t getting those meals at school like they normally would.”

Cars lined up and down 31st Street and Brooklyn Avenue on Saturday morning outside the barbershop.

Swinton, who has operated Brooklyn Kutz for 12 years, said he understands the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand. His beloved mother, Lillie Swinton, died on March 29th while battling the viral disease, leaving behind nine grown children and more than 40 grandchildren.

Swinton said he had enough food for 300 families, some of which came from Harvesters. Other food items were collected by Urban Community Connections. Swinton said he hopes to reopen Brooklyn Kutz by March 20th.

“I just love it. It’s great. I’m laid off from my job since March 18th and I haven’t gotten any unemployment or nothing, so this will help,” Chester Johnson, a man receiving the donations, said.

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