As Sgt. Jay Spalding looked over the Salvation Army’s food pantry on Tuesday, he couldn’t help but notice some empty shelves.
The weak economy has caused problems for most area food pantries this year. With the holiday season looming, concerns range from having enough food to other needs. However, leaders of those charities are hoping to help the needy this year just as they have in the past.
Food pantries take on an even greater role during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They make normal holiday meals possible for hundreds of families.
Spalding said he is hoping donations will not be down this year.
“Right now, our cupboards are pretty bare,” he said. “We have a little bit. We’re able to give some food boxes and serve our daily meal, although we don’t hardly have anything.”
People who receive food boxes at any time during the year have to be referred by the Community First Center, part of First Baptist Church, which also has a food pantry. Spalding said it’s too early to predict what the national recession will do to the Salvation Army’s effort to keep the pantry stocked for the holidays.
“It could very well be down this year,” he said. “We’ve had people come in and tell us that last year they were giving to the Salvation Army, but this year they were asking for help.”
Several groups regularly make donations for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Spalding said.
“We’ve received food from Armstrong Bank, the Muskogee Day Nursery, Bacone College and several schools,” he said. “Also, at Christmas, the VA Regional Office does all our boxes. They donate about 600.”
Spalding said the Salvation Army also relies on donations from individuals.
“Together, it will help us serve our Thanksgiving meal,” he said. “We usually have it from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day instead of our daily 5:30 p.m. serving.”
Sally Weiesnbach, director of operations for the Ark of Faith, said she always prays for the holiday food donations to be adequate.
“God has never failed us,” she said. “My prayer to God has been, ‘Please help us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in the prisons.’”
The early indications at the Ark of Faith are that shortages will not be in the area of the food pantry.
“It’s the finances that are down,” she said. “We’re having trouble keeping up with the utilities. Several of our older donors who helped us get started 34 years ago, and have helped us each year, have died. I can no longer call them.”
If food donations come in this year as hoped, Weiesnbach said they will need canned fruits, such as peaches and pineapple, and canned hams. They also have a need for firewood precut into 24-inch pieces. It can be green or ready to burn.
Community First Center Director Pam Griffith said they buy much of their food from the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. She thinks the poor economy will affect their holiday season operations.
“I think food will be a bit more expensive this year,” she said.
Also, demand is up.
“I’m writing about 50 to 60 referrals a day, five days a week,” she said. “I estimate I’m writing close to 500 a month. It’s been an increase. We have 2,731 names that have been in here this year.”
Jack Murr, director of the Gospel Rescue Mission, said he thinks there may be an increase in demand on their food pantry.
“I won’t know until we put together our Christmas baskets which include food for the families,” he said. “Ever since First Baptist Church began to manage the load, the demand has been spread out over the pantries in town.”
Murr said the mission will have three special events this holiday season. A meal from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, a meal on Christmas Eve, and a cooperative project with the Women’s Auxiliary.
“They hold fundraising events to provide clothing, new toys and food during December,” he said. “The sign-up for Christmas baskets is Nov. 15-Dec. 10 here at the mission. Pickup is Dec. 16.”
Bud Ranks, who coordinates the Muskogee Cooperative Ministries food pantry at First Presbyterian Church, said he’s not worried this year.
“We have plenty of food,” he said. “We don’t anticipate any problems. We have a lot of support from various churches in town and we buy some from the government. The Lord has always provided for us.”
Bree Long, deputy director of the Muskogee County Community Action Foundation, said the nation’s budget woes will have an effect.
“I think the economy will definitely cause an increased demand,” she said. “We were fortunate to get some stimulus funding this year, but that money ended on Sept. 30.”
Long said the center gets the majority of its food from the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, and then supplements that with food from local grocery vendors.
“Our food boxes usually contain basic items like juices, fruits, vegetables, pastas, rice, beans and canned meat,” she said. Recipients are usually limited to once per quarter because demand is greater than the supply.
Long said that in September, the center provided food boxes to 116 households and 201 individuals.
Reach Keith Purtell at 684-2925 or kpurtell @muskogeephoenix.com.
You can help
You can make donations of money or food to the following groups that maintain food pantries. If you are in need of food, call for information. The first stop for most of Muskogee’s food pantries is the Community First Center.
Community First Center — 683-0962, corner of Eighth and Boston streets.
Ark of Faith Foundation — 682-8411, 401 E. Broadway.
First Baptist Church — 682-3496, corner of Seventh Street and Okmulgee Avenue.
Gospel Rescue Mission — 682-3489, 326 S. Second St.
Muskogee Community Action Center — 683-7637, 1313 N. Main St.
Salvation Army — 682-3384, 615 S. Main St.