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Nationwide Donations Help Oklahoma Food Pantry Offer Thanksgiving Dinner

Oklahoma’s poverty rate is higher than the county’s average, and soup kitchens and food pantries across the state are struggling to keep up with demand. 

In a tiny back room at First Presbyterian Church in Muskogee, men roll pallets in and sort food piled against a wall-to-wall mirror for one of the city’s community food pantries.

“This is fun. We sort; we stock. We're kind of the behind-the-scenes worker bees,” Sam Jarvis says.

He has been working in what is essentially the pantry’s staging area for years now. He says he can spend hours in the cramped, fluorescent-lit room, making sure donated food hasn’t expired. But the pantry’s coordinator Bud Ranks says each year around this time, there’s less and less food to sort and even less holiday staples to hand out. 

Sustenance Shortage

“Two weeks ago, we got down to the point where we didn't have enough money to last us through the end of the year. We didn't have any money to buy turkeys for Thanksgiving,” Ranks says.

Over the past week and a half though, food has poured in. And now the back room has mountains of canned fruits, boxed cereals and Vienna sausages.

“We got donations from Oklahoma City and various places in Oklahoma. We've got a number of donations from Texas, California, Wyoming, and I think that's it,” Ranks says.

And maybe most importantly, those holiday staples are now in stock. A woman from Yukon called Ranks last week to donate 150 turkeys to the food pantry.

“That's just unbelievable that somebody would do something like that,” he says. “And the deal was it was her birthday, and her husband asked her what she wanted for her birthday. And she said, ‘I want to buy 150 turkeys for that food pantry.’ She called me and said, ‘Where do I deliver them?’”

The turkeys came in Tuesday, so there wasn’t enough time for them to thaw before Thanksgiving dinner. Runt’s Barbecue in Muskogee stepped up and donated 72 hams though, so Ranks and his team are distributing those this week.  

Nourishing the Needy

The community food pantry mostly serves people who fall below the poverty line, which is nearly 23 percent of the population in Muskogee. And boy, did people show up Tuesday.

The church’s atrium is dimly lit. People crowd inside and wait to get their 10-pound hams. It’s more people than pantry volunteer Creola Titley has ever seen. She wheels a full grocery cart into the crowd and delivers it to Kelly Moore.

Outside, Moore sets his three full-to-the-brim paper sacks down to see what’s inside.

“I have no idea what's in here. Here's soup, cereal, pancake mix, a ham, apple juice, gosh. There's canned food, spaghetti. I got it blessed, I guess,” he says.

Moore used to drive race cars, but he fell on tough times, lost contact with his kids and was diagnosed with cancer. It’s just him, his wife and two cats this holiday season.

“We didn't even know what we were going to do for Thanksgiving, and I heard about the food pantry, and I thought it was just for the ham,” Moore says. “Come to find out they're giving us all kinds of groceries so we'll be able to eat.”

Close to Home

Food pantry coordinator Bud Ranks says he’s constantly moved by stories like Kelly Moore’s. Ranks’ parents lost their farm during the Great Depression, and he was separated from his family for years before they were reunited. He knows what it’s like to have nothing.

“We just, we didn’t have anything. We got a toy for Christmas, that was out of this world. That was just unbelievable. Times were tough,” Ranks says.

Ranks says he is now fortunate enough to help out, so he’s happy to do it. And as for those 150 turkeys from Yukon? He’ll hand them out through the month of December for Christmas dinners.

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