The Bread of Life food pantry has a mission of fighting hunger by feeding families, which is why it set up a drive-thru service for locals in to receive food boxes Monday.
The organization distributes food at least once a month. Kristene Watson is a volunteer and recently started the Bread of Life Facebook Page, which announces the delivery dates. Recently, the distribution has been a two-day event.
“It’s so cold, we have had to adjust our delivery dates. The produce will freeze overnight. In the past, we’ve delivered the food on Tuesdays, but due to the cold temperatures, we’ve had to give out the produce a day early,” she said.
Produce boxes were available Monday from 1-5 p.m. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Bread of Life will give away dry and frozen foods – including meats, cheese, drinks, and beans – from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Not all of the food we order comes in, and right now, we are low on dry goods,” said Mary Hinds, who has worked at Bread of Life for years.
Hinds reflected on how the program has changed over the past year.
“It’s grown because of the coronavirus. Last year, we increased each month,” she said.
Watson added that before the pandemic, only 100-200 families came by for food pickup.
“And we thought that was a lot. Now that number is 1,000 for each of the two days,” said Watson. “The cars line up as far back as Norris Park.”
The park is a good five blocks from the Church of God Seventh Day at 325 E Ward St., where the food is distributed.
While the dropoff takes place on the church site, Watson made it clear the program is independent. Many of the volunteers are from different churches, and anyone can chip in.
Monday’s food came from the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Driver John Marlow works for the food bank and helped unload the shipment to the Bread of Life pantry.
“I’m the only driver who is Class A-certified, so they give me a big schedule. I take food to 25 sites all over the northeastern and eastern part of the state. I make deliveries as far east as Westville and West Siloam Springs,” said Marlow.
Feelings of gratefulness reverberated among the 40 volunteers as they sorted onions, potatoes, and apples, then bagged them and placed them into boxes to hand out.
“God has blessed us each month with volunteers and food. Only one time have we ever run out, and that was because our order didn’t come in. A lot of people come here who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. We are trying to help families in need, which is why we are here,” said Mary Hinds. "What our volunteers have found is that in helping others, we, too, are blessed."
Some volunteers go on ministerial trips to Africa and South America. They learned about the opportunity here in Tahlequah, so they bring their children to teach them how to serve.
Several of the helpers are Northeastern State University students looking to fill requirements for scholarships.
Board member Stephanie Hinds said word of mouth has helped, but the pantry is still looking for more volunteers, as well as community organizers. The board started with Lucille Hinds and her siblings, as well as Leroy Thorton, but all of them have passed away.
The Bread of Life is also looking for more freezer space. The group has had to curtail the amount of freezer items it receives because of the inability to store it.
Those who are interested in donating their money or time are encouraged to visit the Bread of Life Facebook Page.