From farmers to families: Ardmore nonprofit partners with USDA to distribute fresh produce to rural Carter County communities

Sierra Rains
Fresh produce is bagged awaiting distribution to needy families through the Farm to Family program. Local nonprofit Impact Ardmore will be receiving a shipment of food through the program on Tuesday to distribute throughout Carter County.

A local Ardmore nonprofit is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help provide fresh produce to rural Carter County communities, while also supporting farmers.

The partnership is a part of the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which was designed to help put farmers and distributors back to work while also supporting over-burdened food banks, community and faith-based organizations and other nonprofits serving Americans in need during the pandemic.

Since the launch of the program on April 17, nearly five million boxes have been delivered to people across the country. A truck carrying around 1,000 of those boxes will make its way to Ardmore on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., said Impact Ardmore Executive Director Misty Apala, who agreed to take on the large project in conjunction with state Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore.

“Tammy knew that Impact Ardmore was doing mission and local outreach services in Ardmore and she called and asked if I’d be willing to take on a project this big, and, of course, I said yes,” Apala said.

Each box contains enough milk, butter, eggs and fresh fruit and vegetables to sustain a family for about a week. Shipments will continue to be made to the Carter County community once a week for the next six weeks.

The Carter County Sheriff’s Office will be helping distribute some of the boxes to sober living houses in the Ardmore community. Carter County Dodge will deliver another portion of the boxes to the local Boys and Girls Club and school communities.

However, Apala said she and Townley also wanted to make the program inclusive for more rural communities in Carter County.

“We have such an amazing amount of small communities, and a lot of them never get touched,” Apala said. “You have Ardmore and Lone Grove and Dickson that are kind of close but then you have the Tatums and the Pruitt City’s and these smaller communities that never get anything.”

Once the boxes of produce arrive in Ardmore Tuesday morning, Apala said she and Townley, with the help of a few local businesses and volunteers, will load up several SUVs and trucks and drive to rural communities, including Tatums, Fox, Ratliff City, Dickson and Pruitt City.

“There’s a lot of local businesses that are either donating or volunteering their time because they have the same heart for our communities,” Apala said. “Ardmore Trucking is providing an entire refrigerated semi-truck to house these kits and to keep them cold enough to ensure that they don’t spoil.”

Apala said the program is not income based and there are no specific demographics required to receive a box of produce. “So these communities are allowed to be blessed as a whole community. You can come in and you can pick up these boxes. There’s a benefit for farmers and there’s a benefit for families,” she said.

For many families, it’s not always so much about the financial need for food, but rather barriers such as transportation, Apala said. Those in the elderly community and who are at higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19 may also benefit from the program by not having to venture out to grocery stores.

“This isn’t just about providing the need for people who don’t have the ability to obtain food, this is about providing a need overall for those who have any struggle in obtaining food in general,” Apala said.

Apala said she was amazed by how many people and businesses were willing to help out with the program to make sure families get what they need and wants to thank each of those involved.

“I think it’s amazing that people are willing to come in and be the hands and heart,” Apala said. “They didn’t need a reason other than these are our neighbors and you do for your neighbors as you would want done for yourself.”

Anyone who wants to help volunteer can join Impact Ardmore and others as they load up at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9 at 202 E. Main St.

“If anyone wants to volunteer they’re welcome to join us Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. If they would like to come and just speak a blessing or just to see what’s going on — that’s where we’ll be at,” Apala said.