Record Numbers Seeking Food Assistance from Hospital Pantry
Posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009
Hunger and food insecurity are taking an increased toll on people in Love County and the rest of Oklahoma.
Record numbers are seeking food assistance.
Hospital Pantry Food Drive Is Continuous
The food pantry offered by employees of Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, Clinic, and EMS in Marietta serves the largest number of clients.
“We are seeing an increasing number of new applicants, people that have not needed food before,” said Ann Langston, pantry representative.
The employees’ pantry distributes fresh, frozen, canned, and packaged food.
Clients receive a food package of about one dozen items per week. Delivery is made to about 40 homebound recipients.
Anyone may seek assistance from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Tuesdays at the pantry building north of the clinic on Wanda St.
Emergency food packages are available at the nurses’ station in the hospital 24 hours per day.
During 2008, the pantry helped supplement the food needs of an average 1,000 households per month, up from an average of 900 households per month in 2007.
Statistics for the first five months of 2009 are not yet available.
The pantry has a continuous food drive underway. Food donations may be delivered to the hospital anytime. Cash contributions may be made at the business office at 300 Wanda St. or through the Mercy Health/Love County Pantry Account at BankFirst, 105 SW 2.
The pantry uses the contributions to purchase steeply discounted bulk food items from its licenser, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
Every dollar contributed to the local pantry purchases up to eight pounds of food. Said another way, $1 buys two boxes of cereal, or four boxes of rice, or seven jars of peanut butter.
The Regional Food Bank, which serves the western two-thirds of the state, including the hospital pantry, describes demand for food as at record levels.
More food went out from its distribution warehouse in the final three months of 2008 than at any time in the charitable organization’s 30-year history.
Food Stamps Set All-time Usage Record
Statewide, a record 474,972 – 13 percent of Oklahoma’s population – used food stamps in May.
The past four months have set all-time records for usage, the Department of Human Services reported.
At the DHS office in Love County, 1,210 persons living in about 500 qualifying households received food stamps in May.
That’s up from an average of 1,100 persons in each of the prior six months, and up from 1,000 persons per month for the first nine months of 2008.
The value of food stamps is currently $3.40 per person per day.
Clients use food stamps to buy nutritional food items from the grocery store at no cost.
As at the pantry, DHS is lately seeing applicants who had never before requested assistance.
Included are individuals whose income, though low, is still slightly above eligibility levels.
They are referred to the food pantry or to the Big 5 Community Services emergency food program.
Eligibility for food stamps is based on income, the number of people in the family, and other factors. In 2008, the average qualifying household received $250 per month in food stamps during their eligibility period.
Kay Williams, a DHS family services worker, referred to Love County as one of the hardest-working counties around. “People are more interested in getting back on their feet than relying on (food stamps) or another other type of aid.”
Big 5 Fills Emergency Food Needs
At Big 5 Community Services on W. Main, persons referred from DHS or from a church are eligible for emergency groceries.
Packages furnish three meals per day for three days, said Wanda Harris, program supervisor. “We also give out diapers and hygiene products, as they are available.”
Last year, the program served 142 families made up of 218 adults and 168 children. Clients may reapply after six months.
Harris said 32 more households were served through May than for the same period in 2008. “We are seeing an increase of single men making requests because of job loss.”
The program relies on a FEMA grant from April-December and other donations.
Health Department Supplements Nutrition for Moms, Toddlers
The caseload for the WIC (Women’s, Infants, Children) program at the Love County Health Department is climbing.
WIC food packages supplement the nutritional needs of a vulnerable population – children under the age of five and women who are pregnant or nursing.
Participants receive checks good at the grocery store for WIC-identified items. These include infant formula, juice, infant cereal, hot or cold conventional cereal, milk, cheese, eggs, dried beans/peas, peanut butter, tuna, and carrots.
Beginning August 1, all fresh fruits and fresh vegetables will become WIC items, as well as whole grain bread and tortillas.
Eligibility is income-based. In a household of a single mom and infant, for example, an income of less than $26,955 qualifies.
Slightly higher income qualifies if the mother or child also qualifies for a DHS benefit of any kind, including food stamps, SoonerCare, or Medicaid.
In April, the WIC program served 345 participants, said Marcella Kirk, administrative officer. This is up from 326 persons in December 2008.
She attributed the increase to households losing a wage earner as a result of layoff or job loss.
SONP Dishes Out 1,500 Lunches Per Month to Love County Seniors
Nutritional lunches, equal to one-third of seniors’ daily needs, are served at the Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program site on N. Hwy 77 in Marietta.
Seniors age 60 or older are eligible. About 50 persons enjoy a hot congregate lunch each weekday at the center. Another 20 who are homebound receive the meal in their homes.
The actual cost of the meal is $4.95, but seniors are asked only a voluntary $1.50, said Rebekah Williams, outreach coordinator for Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program.
Not all can pay even $1.50 per day, said Williams. She worries about state funding for the balance of the meal. Funding fell short last year, and the service had to cease taking new homebound clients in September.
Though federal stimulus money is expected to be added to the program this year, Williams is taking no chances.
This spring, she launched an “Adopt a Senior Campaign” in Love County to seek local donations to cover the voluntary portion of the meal’s cost for existing and new indigent clients.
That works out to about $30 a month from each adoptive donor.
“We are grateful to anyone in the community who will help with any amount to allow us to encourage seniors to come and eat and not worry about whether they can pay,” Williams said.
Last month, 44 Love County businesses and individuals put on a fish fry at the center.
Williams said meals at the center are followed by dominoes and other board games. Home health agencies take blood pressure and blood sugar screenings.
Chickasaw Nation Feeds Native Americans
The Chickasaw Nation operates a food distribution program grocery store on Chickasaw Blvd. in Ardmore. It is for low-income Native Americans of any tribe who reside in the Chickasaw Nation and are eligible for food stamps. The Nation also is a WIC agency for Native American women and children.
Angel Food Ministry Stretches Food Budget
Any household can utilize Angel Food Ministry to stretch its food budget. Under this monthly program, $30 buys a box of food valued at $70 from a participating church.
Box contents vary each month but consist of both fresh and frozen items feeding a family of four for one week or a single senior citizen for almost one month. The food is the same as could be purchased at a grocery store.
There are no applications or qualifications. Food stamps are accepted.
Orders must be placed by phone or online and paid for in advance. Distribution is made at the host church on a Saturday.
Boxes not picked up are donated to charity. No refunds apply.
Participating churches in the Love County area are Trinity Baptist Church of Ardmore, Temple Baptist Church in Gainesville, and New Beginning Church in Whitesboro, TX.
Food Resources in or Near Love County
Mercy Health/Love County Food Pantry
301 Wanda St.
Big 5 Community Services
910 W. Main St.
Department of Human Services
311 S. Highway 77
Love County Health Department
200 C.E. Colston Dr.
Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program
1105 N. Highway 77, Marietta
Outreach worker: 223-0450
Chickasaw Nation Food Distribution
2350 Chickasaw Blvd., Ardmore
Angel Food Ministry
Web site orders:
Trinity Baptist Church, Ardmore
Temple Baptist Church, Gainesville
New Beginning Church, Whitesboro, TX