Pawhuska churches, community volunteers feed the hungry

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska churches have lived the golden rule this year, reaching out to coordinate free food relief for people facing household economic stress and hunger.

The need has been apparent, pastors say, pointing out there have consistently been long lines of vehicles when free food aid has been offered.

Justin Turney, pastor at First Baptist Church in Pawhuska, explained his congregation has worked with several other churches (United Methodist, Catholic, Calvary Baptist) and community volunteers to distribute groceries, initially on a weekly basis and later on an every-other-week schedule.

When that effort was supported by a full semi-load of government-backed relief groceries, it could serve 680 or more families a week, Turney said. When the volume of groceries being made available dropped, it was still possible to serve 400-500 families, he said.

"We're very open that it has been a blessing to be a blessing," Turney said. "We've gotten a lot of great feedback on the blessing it has been."

He said that coordination among congregations and the participation of community volunteers has been crucial.

"There's no way we could have done anything without that," Turney said.

Pastor Tracy Fitzgerald, of First Assembly of God, described a similar experience. Fitzgerald said First Assembly was able to make a connection in Turley and used a church van to pull a trailer to Turley and bring back a load of food. That's how it started for them.  

Initially, First Assembly parked behind the old drive-through American Heritage Bank, west of the Pawhuska police station.

"We had lines of cars" Fitzgerald said, describing the obvious need. When First Assembly later moved the activity to its church, there was concern about whether people would respond, he said.

"People came out there, too. Every time," Fitzgerald said, recalling there were lines of vehicles. "I think all of us have had big groups of people show up."

Fitzgerald said many who showed up to receive food would take extra groceries to deliver to other families.

"To me, I thought that was just awesome," he said. "I think that alone shows us that the need was there."

Fitzgerald observed that even though we're living in "really crazy times," he has observed behavior that demonstrates "the world is still filled with really good, amazing people."

First Assembly has concluded its food aid activity for now, and it might be February if the activity is restarted, Fitzgerald said.

"There is a tremendous amount of need out there" he said. "I think it's been a godsend for many people. Every little thing we can do as a community has got to help."

Jamie Kelly, pastor at City Church in Pawhuska, said that with the arrival of COVID-19, the church knew food aid might well be needed.

City Church's outreach pastor, Sam McCullough, worked on a plan, Kelly said, explaining that McCullough handles such community activities for City Church both in Bartlesville and Pawhuska. The church used a kids' auditorium in Bartlesville to stage food supplies, Kelly said.

City Church has been doing food distributions every other week, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, at Tri County Tech building in Pawhuska. Bags of non-perishable food items and boxes of produce and dairy products have been distributed, he said.

Kelly said he thinks City Church plans to continue with some form of food distribution.

"I don't think there's any end in sight for us at the moment," he said. It has been common to have a strong response, with vehicles lined up down the road, he said.

City Church has also used a team of people to offer prayer to those who show up to receive groceries. The team hands out prayer cards and gets back stacks of prayer requests, he said.

"There's obviously a lot of need" both physical and spiritual, Kelly said. "It really hasn't lessened at all."

Kelly also had observed the habit of some folks who respond to food distributions to take groceries to other families.

"That's been really awesome to see," he said.

Kelly said City Church has made investments in its ability to store and distribute food, and sees this as an area where it hopes to continue.