According to Feeding America, 1 in 5 children and 1 in 7 people struggle with hunger in Oklahoma. In August of 2020, the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Board of Directors approved funding for seven grants to address food insecurity and increase Oklahomans access to healthy and nutritious food. In partnership with Community Market of Pottawatomie County (CMPC), Gateway to Prevention and Recovery received one of the seven grants. Along with several partnerships within the community, CMPC and Gateway have developed a coordinated food assistance network impacting food deserts in rural Pottawatomie County along with the entirety of Seminole county and parts of Hughes County. They are providing emergency assistance to those in need and addressing the root causes of food insecurity in the region by forming a Food Policy Council in Seminole County.
CMPC, Gateway staff and many volunteers, dispatch a mobile food market to high-need areas in the targeted counties, helping alleviate immediate hunger needs. This happens twice per week at different locations within the service area. Due to COVID-19, food distribution has looked differently than initially planned. A mobile food market was donated to the project by SSM St. Anthony’s hospital and will hopefully be utilized this summer. For now, food is distributed by volunteers at each location. The food is placed in the vehicle of the participant and families are safely served.
“The need for a mobile market or delivery system is great. Being able to reach our rural neighbors would help address the issue of food insecurity and alleviate some of the problems for people living in a food desert”, said Sonya McDaniel, Pottawatomie County OSU Extension office. “During the summer of 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, a solution and amazing partnerships fell into place. Using the resources and talents from each partner, the Mobile Market became a reality. For many in these rural areas, this is the first time they have been able to access the variety of fresh and frozen foods available through the Community Market system.”
Claudia Willis, Food System Field Rep and Gateway staff member said, “The mobile food distribution has served 769 families in rural Pottawatomie County from November to the middle of March. This grant has had a direct impact on the residents who live in rural areas that are identified as food deserts.”
Many families can’t or don’t access the market in Shawnee due to the limited number of trips they are able to make during the week. Often, these trips are saved for scheduled appointments or weekends which may not allow them the time to use the Community Market during open hours. Sometimes this is due to only having one vehicle or not having the extra funds for gas. The mobile food distribution within the targeted rural areas has been effective in allowing families in need to not have to travel far to access fresh food that is free of charge. One participant shared, “This is such a blessing; times are so hard right now. God bless you for bringing this to our community.”
Lisa Cobb, Food Grant Field Rep and Gateway staff member stated, “The grant has not only provided immediate relief for food during the pandemic but also developed further partnerships. These partnerships seek to increase the availability of healthy foods in rural communities. Engaging community support in this effort is key to supporting health in our communities.”
“We are now in 8 communities and can likely grow to 12 during the summer. We are currently serving Seminole, Asher, Maud, Konawa, Wewoka, McLoud, Tecumseh and Holdenville. We can serve up to 100 families during each two-hour distribution. Since the start of the mobile food distribution in November, we have served 2,026 families, representing 6,515 people” said Daniel Mathews, Executive Director of Community Market of Pottawatomie County. Food distribution mirrors what community members would receive if they came to the physical location of CMPC in Shawnee.
The food distribution is very welcomed in the rural communities that is serves. One community member said, “I was watching from my porch, all of the cars lined up on the street and I want to say thank you. So many in this community need the food, I hope it never ends.”
For more information about food distribution dates, times and locations and how to volunteer, please visit ‘Our Community Market of Pottawatomie County’ Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.