Three pallets less than a full semi-truck of food rolled out of the Food and Resource Center in south-central Oklahoma last Monday.
That day, the center served as many families as ever in a single day.
The Food and Resource Center provides groceries each month to thousands of hungry Oklahomians in Carter, Johnston, Murray and Love counties, but they had no idea what to expect for 2020. .
Executive Director James Rosson has kept a daily log of guests served each day since the Food and Resource Center opened in September 2016. As of December 28, the highest number of guests they had ever served was 177.
November and December 2020 turned out to be among their busiest months to date. “We knew that at some point we would break the 200, we just didn’t know when,” Rosson said.
On the Monday after Christmas, they broke their record for the number of guests served with 207 families coming to collect food and more than 20,000 pounds of food distributed. Rosson said it averages about 110 pounds and about $ 200 to $ 300 worth of groceries for each family.
“207 is just amazing,” said Rosson. “I mean we knew we were going to be busy, but we didn’t know we were going to be that busy.”
The past year has been difficult for families financially and has created a great deal of food insecurity. According to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, more than 35 million people were battling hunger in the United States before the COVID-19 pandemic.
A study by the organization in October predicted that number would rise to more than 50 million people by 2020.
When the spread of COVID-19 began to be documented in southern Oklahoma in March, Rosson said the Food and Resource Center needed to act quickly to ensure they could safely stay open.
“We had to move immediately to where we were handing out shopping baskets, as opposed to our people coming in to buy their food, which was a huge change because it’s all the customer’s choice,” Rosson said. “That’s kind of the point of what we do, but we had no choice there.”
The second concern was whether they would have enough food to meet the needs. However, donations and the continued supply of nearly six trucks full of food each month eliminated any further concerns about a lack of resources.
“Supplies really aren’t an issue, that’s the good news,” said Rosson. With programs like the USDA’s Farmers to Families program that kicked off in mid-May, Rosson said he saw the number of families requiring food assistance decline early on.
On the contrary, the Food and Resource Center saw an increase in the number of clients for the first time. Over time, the number of families entering started to rise again and Rosson said they are currently serving around 1,500 families per month.
Rosson has said they would like to return to normal operations, but that might not happen for some time as COVID-19 infections continue to rise across the country.
“We’re watching the numbers – we’d really love to get back to where our people can come back to, but the goal for us is to stay open,” Rosson said. “We serve just over 1,500 families each month. If we close for two weeks, it’s going to be brutal for them and for both of us. So we’re really, really trying to be careful.
The number of volunteers at the Food and Resource Center declined in 2020 due to health concerns, but the remaining staff and volunteers have shown resilience. Rosson said he was able to hire more staff in place of volunteers and that many regular volunteers helped out whenever they had the chance.
“They’re doing it, it hasn’t been easy from a distance, but they’re working hard,” said Rosson. “They come almost every day to help. They know what’s going on, they know the operation. They’re the ones who really make it click.
As the center heads into 2021, Rosson said the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially impact the food supply, but at the moment they are in good shape. Their goal for next year, and every year, is to help food insecure people get back on their feet where they no longer need resources like the Food and Resource Center.
Anyone in need of food is encouraged to stop during regular distribution hours. The Food and Resource Center is located at 801 Hailey Street in Ardmore. For more information, contact (580) 798-2293 or [email protected]
“If anyone is hungry, come. We have a lot of food, ”Rosson said. “I hear ‘I don’t want to take food from someone else’ – no, none of that. Come on, we’ve got plenty of food.