USDA program feeds Osage County families

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

AVANT — As the sun rose and the heat of a late spring day built last Thursday in this small town that has no grocery, vehicles of all descriptions began to form a line stretching from the local school toward the old highway nearby.

Volunteers used the school gym and an area a few yards away from it to stage the distribution of boxes of food made available through a U.S. Department of Agricuture initiative called the Farmers to Families Food Box program. It is an element of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that the national government announced in mid-April, and it involves the nationwide provision of billions of dollars worth of produce, dairy products and meat to families impacted economically by the health crisis.

In the Tulsa area, the GoFresh Produce company is the primary distributor of the free food boxes to communities and families. Different community groups have formed alliances with non-profit organizations that are moving the food from GoFresh to make it available to families.

In Avant, the non-profit group that has been trucking in food from Go Fresh is Tulsa-based 180 Disaster Relief. On Facebook, Avant residents refer to the shipments as “the Blessing Truck.”

Vehicles pulled through the distribution area, across from Avant School, last Thursday morning to pick up boxes of produce and dairy products, and to receive bags of chicken nuggets. Volunteers asked the occupants of each vehicle how many families they were picking up supplies for, and volunteers working inside the school gym occasionally brought additional food items over to the distribution point.

It was the third week out of four that residents of Avant and the area around it had received free food distributed by GoFresh and 180 Disaster Relief. Another truck was reportedly inbound on Tuesday of this week.

The shipments are an example of how the federal government, large food distribution corporations, and local non-profits (many of them faith-based) are combining to ensure that residents of small Osage County communities have access to the nutrition they need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Pawhuska churches also participating

In Pawhuska last Friday morning, at Sixth and Prudom, several local churches also combined to distribute food received from GoFresh through the USDA Farmers to Families program.

The line of vehicles on Prudom was long.

Pastor Justin Turney, of the First Baptist Church of Pawhuska, said that some 50-60 boxes of food per week had previously been obtained through the Osage Nation, which had been receiving the food via Catholic Charities; however, when the Osage Nation took precautions because of an outbreak of COVID-19, churches in Pawhuska arranged to receive a shipment from Catholic Charities of foodstuffs packaged by GoFresh, Turney explained.

“It was an amazing success,” Turney said of the distribution the morning of June 12. In an online post, Turney thanked more than 35 volunteers from First Baptist, Calvary Baptist, First United Methodist, the local Latter Day Saints congregation and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for helping to hand out more than 750 boxes of food and more than 500 gallons of milk

“We love coming together and loving people because Jesus loves us,” Turney said in his online post. “Thank you to our partners in the Ministerial Alliance and Catholic Charities. Thank you to the community of Pawhuska for showing up big not only for your own families but for the numerous people who took food to their neighbors and other family members as well!”

“It was a community effort,” Turney said. He commented that he thought the distribution of more than 750 boxes of free food in less than three and a half hours last Friday demonstrated “a pretty great need” in the local community on the part of families affected by job loss and other aspects of the economic crisis that has resulted from the novel coronavirus crisis.