Free food giveaways are continuing next week at the Northside Assembly of God Church in McAlester — where the church pastor said he and some members of the church congregation have recovered from COVID-19.
Church Pastor Brian Smith said he has recovered from the illness and members of the congregation have as well, including a 97-year-old woman.
The next free food giveaway at Northside Assembly of God Church in McAlester is set for Monday, Sept. 14.
It's another in a series of food giveaways through the Farmers to Families Food Box program made possible through a partnership, with Tulsa-based GoFresh teaming with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Volunteer Nick Arnold said plans are for the food giveaway to begin at 9:30 a.m., with some drivers typically lining their vehicles up much earlier to assure they have a spot in the line.
Once again the food giveaway is open to anyone who wants to participate, with no age or income guidelines, Arnold said.
Food is loaded in the church parking lot at 3602 N. George Nigh Expressway. Volunteers load the food; drivers and passengers should stay in their vehicles, Arnold said. Food typically consists of fresh produce that arrives inside a refrigerated truck. Sometimes diary products are included as well, but volunteers don't know exactly what will be shipped to McAlester until the truck arrives, said Arnold.
Smith, who was a candidate for the Ward 5 McAlester City Council seat during the June Primary Election, said he tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 4. Smith said he didn't want to venture a guess as to how many members of the church congregation have contracted COVID-19, since some may have been sick from other illnesses.
He said the church is resuming two in-person services a day, beginning Sunday, after ceasing in-person services for awhile and going online.
"We were online for a month," Smith said. "We had one service last Sunday.
"This coming Sunday we're going back to 9 and 11 a.m.," he said. "Most of us have passed our quarantine time."
Smith said he thought there were enough safe practices in place, before some people who attend the church began testing positive for COVID-19.
"I had been telling people if you feel bad, don't come," Smith said.
As for the onset of his illness, Smith said he had gone to a local restaurant after conducting two Sunday morning services, when he began feeling unwell.
"I ached from my neck to my toes," Smith said. He said he also had other symptoms, including an extremely sore throat.
Smith said he went to Ada to get tested for COVID-19, and his test came back positive. He also obtained a prescription.
"I took hydrocloxychlorine," he said of the anti-malarial drug that some have touted as a treatment for COVID-19. Its use to treat COVID-19 has not been approved by either the Centers for Disease Control or the federal Food and Drug Administration, with possible side effects cited as a concern.
Smith is aware of the controversy and he said he is not maintaining hydrocloxychlorine cured him. He said he does not know.
Smith said he began recovering. He said he was not hospitalized but went to a place in a rural location where he spent most of his time and could stay more isolated.
"I know in two days I was feeling better. It took me about two weeks to get over it," Smith said.
He said it's unusual how the illness affects people in different ways. For some who were under the age of 40 and in good health, it was like having the flu, he said.
For others, including the 97-year-old parishioner, it proved much more serious. She was sent home from the hospital for hospice care, he said. After one particularly trying night, she started to improve and now appears to be over the illness, he said. And yes, members of the congregation joined in intercessory prayer on her behalf that night, Smith said.
Smith had been among those who addressed the McAlester City Council when the council was considering whether to pass a mask or facial covering mandate designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19 , with the mandate eventually passing. A city ordinance now requires everyone in a public setting or place of public accommodation where physical or social distancing is not possible to wear a mask or other protective facial covering.
Smith maintains that he wasn't against people wearing protective facial coverings, but he had encouraged the council to let people make their own choices.
Has his views now changed?
"I will wear a mask when going in and out of a business," Smith said. He noted it's the law, but he said he doesn't really know if it is effective.
If people see him without a mask or other protective facial covering when going in and out of a business in McAlester, it will be because he forgot to put it on, he said.
For those who haven't been to the church previously for the food giveaway, drive north on U.S. Highway 69 and take the Hereford Lane exit, Arnold said. Drivers heading south on the highway can also reach the church by taking the Hereford Lane Exit. The church is on the east side of the highway.
Arnold said drivers can follow the access road that leads directly to the church.
He said the free food giveaway limited to one family per car, part of an effort to try and make sure everybody gets food who lines up to participate. If there's more than one family per car, they have to go back and get in line again, said Arnold.
As for wearing masks or other protective facial coverings while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, Smith said there are lessons to be learned.
"I'm OK with it," said Smith. "I love everybody in this town."
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.