More empty cupboards in rural Oklahoma
A quick check around the country shows Oklahoma’s unemployment rate as one of the lowest. Tax revenues set records just about every month, and the wind seems to be blowing the state the right way. But one of the essentials is missing…food. The state is among the hungriest in the nation, and rural Oklahoma is even worse. But statistics don’t tell the story…
The cars start lining up as early as 1. They reach beyond the senior center, past the pharmacy, to the next corner, and the next, and the next. An older lady, Melba, was towards the front of the line. A line she never thought she would need.
“No, not when we was younger, I didn’t. But when you get older, it’s a lot different.”
It stretches up to God’s Garage, in tiny Yale, Oklahoma. This might be the most action downtown sees every month, but that’s how it goes.
“You know that the need is there and maybe that it is hidden and maybe that people don’t address the need that there is, and I just wanted to address the need.”
Natalie Newby wanted to help, but didn’t really plan, she just did. In 2003, she and a couple volunteers would run between the Church basement and cars to deliver food. Now, it’s turned into a monthly event, with the efficiency of an assembly line.
LaDawn Simpson calls out to the other volunteers. She talks with the people that pull up. But before things got started, she showed me what’s in a box.
“We have what, potatoes, chicken, sweet potato fries, bread, onion, cereal…”
There’s about 20 people devoted to boxing everything up, checking each car in, and loading them up. By the end Monday night, they’ll pass out anywhere between 200 and 250 boxes. Without that box?
“We’d do what we did before we started getting it…without on some stuff. And what’s that kind of stuff? Medicine and food, I spend enough on medicine over there.”
The program touches all generations. Eric has three kids – Autumn is eight, Brooklyn is six, and Violet three. As Natalie dropped off the box at his apartment at the end of a roundabout, he tried to contain his emotions.
“See my kids happy to have food makes me happy to know they’re not growing up like I did.”
Yale is just one of more than 50 towns that get deliveries thanks to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. It’s gone from distributing about thirty million pounds in 2009 to more than 45 this past year. To keep their shelves stocked, they’re in the middle of a food drive. And Saturday letter carriers across Oklahoma will take donations.
“If our children don’t eat, they can’t think. And if they don’t think, they can’t learn. And if our children don’t learn, then the future of our country is at risk. We need to raise a good generation of well-educated, well-trained, fed children.”
Steve Riggs is one of the chairs of the Letter Carrier’s Drive.
“We tend to think of it like this. Once you’ve seen a hungry child, you don’t ever want to see another one. And this is the way that we can give back, this is the way we can fight hunger.”
Compared to the cities, more plates go empty in rural Oklahoma. According to the USDA, the state’s poverty rate in rural areas is about three percent higher than in urban, nearing twenty percent.
“Medford, Buffalo, Gotebo, three or four places in Dewey County. All of these are rural areas that never have in their entire history experienced problems with hunger until just recently.”
Bob Bearden is also working with Riggs. The letter carriers drive is part of the Regional Food Bank’s month long campaign, running all the way to May 25th. For this Saturday, canned goods just need to go in a plastic bag before 7 AM.
“All you have to really do is just put food out either in your mailbox or outside your mailbox. It makes it very easy to do something that is for a good cause, and you really don’t have to leave your home.”
That food goes beyond filling up an empty stomach. As Eric said:
“Little towns, they take care of their people, they do. I like it, and that’s why I’m not back in Arizona.”