Story by Barbara Mintmire, photos provided by Our Daily Bread
Stillwater is brimming with food resources, and it’s within our power to bring them together. The volunteers behind the non-profit, Community Resourcing Incorporated, after studying the devastating effects of local poverty, envisioned a facility that would reduce food insecurity by consolidating the three largest food pantries. With the assistance of Stillwater CARES and Stillwater Area United Way and guidance from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the idea for Our Daily Bread Food & Resource Center took shape.
Payne County is home to numerous food pantries with the majority concentrated in Stillwater. Food pantries offer free food to people who, for a variety of reasons, would go hungry without it. Most people who visit a food pantry will do so only three or fewer times per year, using it as an emergency safety net rather than a steady source of food. With a rising number of households living below the federal poverty line, Stillwater residents at every income level feel the pressure. Among Stillwater area residents, 32.7% live below the poverty line as compared to the national average of 15%.
Tapping into the energy of the entire community, it’s very likely that the Board of Directors for Our Daily Bread will meet its goal of opening this Food & Resource Center within the next year. Board President Andrew Ranson says, “The idea has attracted support from entities as diverse as the City of Stillwater, Oklahoma State University, Habitat for Humanity, churches, social service providers, food pantries, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and civic organizations. We are in complete agreement that we need to put as many resources as possible under one roof.” Ranson explains that, at present, people have to go from one food pantry to another in order to gather the food they need to make it from one paycheck to the next. This is especially hard on the elderly, children and handicapped, who typically have no income and no transportation. Ranson adds, “Coming to a single location that offers consistent and expanded operating hours is one way we can improve the system to better meet their needs. Plus, we’ll be able to offer other services, such as healthy cooking demonstrations, wellness and nutritional counseling—for example, for diabetics—and referrals to other resources in the community.”
Such widespread support is clearly an indication that Our Daily Bread is an idea whose time has come. Since its launch in 2015, community collaboration has propelled this project forward with virtually no delays. The City of Stillwater provided a lease on a building that originally housed the Naval Reserve, located at 12th and Alcott Avenues. The Regional Food Bank’s architect is developing plans for the 14,000 square foot building. Habitat volunteers will help keep renovation costs down by doing demolition and finishing work. Various OSU faculty and staff are serving as advisors in fields such as nutrition, public health and architectural engineering. Local businesses have donated store fixtures that will be used in the new food pantry. All these contributions and more add up to tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of in-kind donations.
A facilities planning committee is working closely with the architect so that the final blueprint will include a warehouse designed to process food donations as well as receive deliveries from the Regional Food Bank for pick-up by other area food pantries, shelters, and meal sites. The building will house office space, a kitchen classroom, conference room, volunteer lounge, and an enclosed demonstration garden. But the feature that will take pride of place will be the client-choice food pantry, a grocery store style facility in which shoppers will make their own selections. In addition to shelf-stable food items, fresh and frozen foods will also be on hand. The Regional Food Bank will provide customized commercial coolers and freezers for the display of perishable dairy and meat products. Fresh produce will be prominent and easily accessible to promote healthy choices, and recipe ideas will be readily available from volunteers assisting in the waiting room and shopping area.
A capital campaign is underway to raise $1.5 million to cover estimated remodeling expenses of $750,000 plus three years of operating budget, expected to be $250,000 per year. Individuals and organizations who see both the need and the great benefit to the community have contributed $478,000 to date.
First and foremost, the mission of Our Daily Bread is to feed the community. “There is no reason for anyone to be hungry,” says Patsy Rains, director of the food pantry at Lost Creek United Methodist Church, which will merge with First United Methodist Church’s Store House Food Pantry and the food pantry at Stillwater Church of Christ. “If you’re hungry,” she says, “You’ll never be able to think beyond where your next meal’s coming from. You won’t be able to break that vicious cycle of living in poverty. This is what we’re aiming to do by joining together: take care of the hunger and then address the other issues.”
With so much community interaction, Our Daily Bread will expand services and house programming that will, indeed, address the issues that so many of our neighbors deal with on a daily basis. Our Daily Bread has a way of inspiring animated discussion and generating creative ideas for solving problems which, until now seemed insurmountable. And it all begins with food.