More than half a million Oklahomans worry about where their next meal will come from, according to Feeding America. Now, a group of pastors is worried changes to a USDA food distribution program is leaving rural Oklahomans behind.
“Our problem is we cannot get any food to serve the people,” Luther United Methodist Church Pastor and food distribution leader Patricia Johnson said.
A USDA spokesperson said the change is due to a reduction in federal COVID-19 relief funds set aside for the Farmers to Families program.
“An additional $500 million was made available for the fourth round of the program through ... the CARES Act, but the amount of funding available is about one third of the total available in previous rounds, which resulted in some non-profits being unable to participate,” the USDA spokesperson said in a statement.
“With the pandemic, it’s just been a tremendous need in our community, and sometimes rural Oklahoma, we’re just left out,” Luther First Christian Church Pastor Johnny Melton said.
Johnson said about every six weeks, thousands of boxes of fresh produce were divided between Luther, McCloud, Chandler, Dale, Davenport, Jones, Wellston and Harrah.
“I’ve got the forklift, the location, all of my volunteers ready to go and we are trying to get a truckload of food before Christmas break for the kids,” she said.
Pastor Christine Pomaville leads the First Christian Church in Chandler. She said they would typically receive 200 to 250 boxes of food.
“Parents need just a little bit extra help to get good nutritional food to their kids,” Pomaville said. “These boxes meant they could feed their kids fresh fruits and vegetables.”
In Luther, Melton said as a pastor he didn’t recognize how great the need is in his community.
“When you have people call you and message you and say, ‘hey Johnny, they were out of food when I got there, but I have two gallons of milk; we’re so grateful for that,’ that’s very disturbing,” Melton said. “These are people that would never had done that before.”
The USDA’s new distribution company told Johnson, the food was now being sent five larger food banks in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
“The change means that we cannot get the food out to where it’s needed in rural communities,” Pomaville said. “Some people don’t have transportation. If they just offered them in the city, there’s no way that half, three-quarters of our people could get there.”
The Pastors said they hope the program once again makes the boxes available to rural communities, but if not, they’ll work with what they have to fill the need.
“We would love to do so much more but here it’s just the money just isn’t here so we do as many as we can.”
“It’s more than just writing a check, it’s actually getting involved, it’s actually showing humility, understanding the problem,” Melton said. “Instead of demanding ‘God I need this, I need that.’ instead ask God ‘what can I do to solve this. I think that will go a long way.”