Bryan County’s Hands of Hope Food Pantry held an open house March 29 to tell the public about its work, its resources, and its needs.
The event included videos of volunteers telling about why they volunteer, a tour of the Pantry’s facilities, a talk by Pantry Director Sue Stanfield, and a light lunch. AmeriCorps volunteer and mother of what she calls “a herd of children”—three young children, Serena Backues emceed the video program and conducted the tour.
In the videos, three current workers at Hands of Hope told gripping stories of how they came to the Pantry. One, a paid employee of seven years, told of using illegal drugs and living on the streets, before he joined the local church, Victory Life, that founded the facility going on thirty years ago. He now sees his goal in life as “breaking down barriers in the community.”
A volunteer discussed her life prior to working at the Pantry as one of depression and attempted suicide. She, too, has worked with the facility for seven years.
Another volunteer told of her relationships with Hands of Hope clients. She noted the grocery-store-shopping format and praised the fact that shoppers do not have to take any food they don’t want. They can pick and choose. Clients get to take many kinds of food—breakfast cereals, bread, fresh produce, meat, and household products. One of her fondest memories is of a woman who didn’t want a fresh beef roast that she was offered—she preferred bologna instead.
Director Sue Stanfield also related stories of clients who used Hands of Hope to begin “stepping up in the world” and eventually obtained good jobs. One of her favorite stories is about dining in an area restaurant and having the manager come to her table to reveal that he once had to use the help of Hands of Hope. He told her that now he is also considering running for the Oklahoma Senate.
Stanfield explained that, to the extent that Pantry staff can, they serve the “whole person,” giving clients not only food but help getting a job, passing the test for the Graduate Equivalency Diploma, or just getting an identity card. She quoted one former client as saying, “You helped me when I didn’t have anything.” Stanfield commented that the needs of clients are so numerous and varied that the Pantry cannot meet them all. She explained that although the staff refers them to other community sources of help, local government still needs to provide more.
Hands of Hope is not only a food pantry for County clients but a distribution center to ship donated food to smaller pantries in five surrounding counties—Bryan, Marshal, Johnston, Atoka and Coal. It also receives food to be picked up for school lunch programs and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Recently, it has handled almost 1.5 million pounds of food valued at about $2.5 million annually. Although most of the funding comes from donations by members of the founding church, Victory Life, the Pantry needs contributions from other sources. Two corporate giants, Amazon.com and Walmart, are among the groups that make food donations. Two truckloads of food come from Amazon weekly.
Between 800 and 1,000 County residents shop weekly at Hands of Hope. The facility has four employees and about 100 volunteers. About 25 volunteers are needed every day. Stanfield said that they can use still more volunteers and donations. One of Hands of Hope’s websites tells how the pantry developed from an idea of Senior Pastor Duane Sheriff and states that “there are many areas and opportunities to serve … if you have an interest in volunteering and a heart for serving, and loving people.” Those interested can contact Director Sue Stanfield at (580)920-2574, or visit at 724 West Main in Durant, OK.
The Bryan County Coalition Against Hunger provides several services to enable Hands of Hope shoppers to become better aware of County sources of help. On the Pantry site, the Coalition maintains a large collection of grocery-shopping coupons free to clients to supplement the basic products they receive at the facility.
It also has two free publications for the Pantry and ten other County nutrition sites and miscellaneous help sources, a resource list and a monthly newsletter. For more information, call 580-924-2845 or email [email protected]
Submitted by the Bryan County Coalition Against Hunger.