'207 is just unbelievable': Food and Resource Center serves record amount of families

Sierra Rains
Staff and volunteers at the Food and Resource Center ready shopping carts full of food to be distributed in March, when COVID-19 began spreading into southern Oklahoma.

Three pallets short of an entire semi-truck load of food went out the door of the Food and Resource Center of South Central Oklahoma on Monday last week.

That day, the center served the largest number of families that have ever come in during a single day. 

The Food and Resource Center provides groceries to thousands of Oklahomans struggling with hunger in Carter, Johnston, Murray and Love Counties each month, but they had no idea what was in store for 2020. 

Executive Director James Rosson has kept a daily record of guests served every day since the Food and Resource Center opened in Sep. 2016. Prior to Dec. 28, the most guests they had ever served was 177. 

November and December of 2020 proved to be some of their busiest months yet. “We knew at some point we’d break 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 in for food and over 20,000 pounds of food given out. Rosson said that averages to around 110 pounds and around $200 to $300 worth of groceries for each family. 

“207 is just unbelievable,” Rosson said. “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 tough of families financially and created a large amount of food insecurity. According to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, more than 35 million people struggled with hunger in the United States prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A study done by the organization in October projected that number rising to more than 50 million people in 2020. 

When the spread of COVID-19 first began being documented in southern Oklahoma in March, Rosson said the Food and Resource Center had to act fast to ensure they could safely remain open. 

“We had to switch immediately to where we handed out shopping carts as opposed to our folks coming in to actually shop for their food, which was a huge change because the whole point is client choice,” Rosson said. “That’s kind of the goal of what we do, but we had no choice there.”

The second concern was whether they would have enough food supplies to meet the need. However, donations and a continuous supply of close to six trucks full of food each month squashed any further worries of lacking resources. 

“Supplies really aren’t an issue, that’s the good news,” Rosson said. With programs like the USDA’s Farmers to Families Program starting up in mid-May, Rosson said they actually saw their numbers of families requiring food assistance decline at first. 

Rather, the Food and Resource Center saw an increase in first-time clients. As time went by, the numbers of families coming in began to rise again and Rosson said they currently are serving around 1,500 families per month. 

Rosson said they would like to switch back to normal operations, but that may not happen for some time with COVID-19 infections continuing to rise across the nation. 

“We’re watching the numbers — we’d really like to change back over to where our folks can come back in but the whole goal for us is to stay open,” Rosson said. “We serve a little over 1,500 families every month. If we close for two weeks, that’s going to be brutal for them and for us both. So we’re really, really trying to be careful.” 

The number of volunteers at the Food and Resource Center shrank in 2020 due to health concerns, but the remaining staff and volunteers were resilient. Rosson said he was able to hire more staff in place of volunteers and many regular volunteers helped out every chance they got. 

“They get after it, it’s not been easy by any stretch, but they work hard,” Rosson said. “They come almost everyday to help out. They know what’s going on, they know the operation. They’re the ones that keep it really clicking.”

As the center moves into 2021, Rosson said the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially impact the food supply, but at this time, they are in good shape. Their goal for the next year, and every year, is to help those struggling with food insecurity get back on their feet to where they no longer need resources like the Food and Resource Center. 

Anyone who is in need of food is encouraged to stop in during regular distribution times. The Food and Resource Center is located at 801 Hailey Street in Ardmore. For more information contact (580) 798-2293 or info@feedingsouthcentralok.org.

“If somebody’s hungry, come. We’ve got plenty of food,” Rosson said. “I hear ‘I don’t want to take food from somebody else’— no, none of that. Come on, we’ve got plenty of food.”