Alva Review-Courier -

Food bank in high gear for holiday season

 

December 1, 2019

Courtesy of Jennifer Marston

Volunteers from ADM help pack boxes at the Alva food bank on Nov. 19.

The Alva Wesleyan Food Bank has shifted into high to help ease hunger during a season made jolly for most by family gatherings – and family feasts.

As Thanksgiving approached, Jennifer Marston – who runs the food bank – was thrilled to receive a $2,333.50 donation from United Way of Enid and NW Oklahoma and ADM Cares. The money purchased turkeys for everyone who came to the food bank before the holiday.

"We're distributing (food to) close to 80 families each Thursday this month (November)," said Marston. They're not all from Alva; families come from the whole surrounding area, Marston said, with some coming from as far away as Kansas.

How It Works

Anyone who needs help putting food on the table can visit the food bank once a month. Each family who comes to the food bank receives a box of dry foods and a box of freezer items, and can choose from a table covered in a variety of items that don't fall into the usual categories (two cases of Icee drink mixes, for example) or that Marston was able to get for free (like cases of breads or lightbulbs or eggs).

The boxes are packed with a formula in mind, said Marston.

The dry boxes contain two meats, four vegetables, one fruit, rice and pasta, two types of soup, drinks, snacks, a breakfast item, a baking item like a cake mix. The week before Thanksgiving, the boxes contained stuffing as well.

The freezer boxes "this week," said Marston, have three meats, a miscellaneous frozen item like a frozen pizza, and then they fill the rest of the box with breads that range from the sandwich variety to pastries.

Seniors may be eligible to receive a third box, said Marston.

"We do have quite a few seniors," she said. "We try to make sure they're aware of the senior center."

The senior center has a partnership with the food bank that lets seniors (who have filled out an application) receive an extra box of food, Marston said. Seniors would receive two boxes at the food bank and then a third box at the senior center.

The food bank, located at 818 Lane St., distributes boxes of food every Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m., except on holidays. (For example, the food bank will be closed the day after Christmas, because that's a Thursday, and will be closed the next Thursday as well, which is the day after New Year's Day.)

For Marston, A Lifelong Calling

Marston has spent many years of her life working to help people living in poverty.

Most recently that included working at a homeless shelter in a part of Oklahoma City where hearing gunfire from nearby gangs was commonplace.

And even that may seem tame in comparison to coordinating aid efforts in countries devastated by natural disaster or war, which is what Marston did before enrolling in Southern Nazarene University, where she met and later married Brady Marston, Alva's Church of the Nazarene pastor.

So it's not surprising that Marston's now heading up the work at the food bank. She began her work there in May. She's still learning what the larger service community consists of and how it interacts, but she doesn't seem the type to limit her dreams.

One new project at the food bank came about when Marston spoke at a Woods County Coalition meeting and Susan Holliday (of the OSU Extension) approached her afterward with an idea that they've turned into reality.

The OSU Extension produced some user-friendly cookbooks for food bank clientele that focus on how to put together a balanced meal from food bank items. Then last month, the OSU Extension, the OHCE members and 4-H kids got together and made little loaves of pumpkin bread and brought them to the food bank, said Marston.

"So we were able to put a pumpkin bread in each of the boxes with the option for them to take the (Extension) recipe card for how to make it. And so I tried to put (canned pumpkin) in each of the boxes" so they could make the recipe right away if they wanted to.

This month the recipe card from OSU Extension is for cranberry bread, so Marston's on the lookout for cans of cranberry to include in those boxes.

Where Does It All Come From?

Marston gets a monthly shipment of food from the regional food bank, but she says a lot of the food they can offer their clientele comes from people and organizations in the Alva area who donate either food or money.

Kathleen Lourde

TOP: Alva Wesleyan Food Bank received a $2,333.50 check from United Way of Enid and NW Oklahoma and ADM Cares. ADM employees came out Nov. 19 to volunteer at the Alva Wesleyan Food Bank. The group packed 125 boxes of food that were distributed the following Tuesday. The food bank serves more than 200 families each month. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Marston) MIDDLE LEFT: Jennifer Marston has spent many years of her life working to help people living in poverty. Most recently that included working at a homeless shelter in a part of Oklahoma City where hearing gunfire from nearby gangs clashing was almost a nightly occurrence. And even that, to an outsider, may seem tame in comparison to coordinating aid efforts in countries devastated by natural disaster or war, which is what Marston did before enrolling in Southern Nazarene University, where she met and later married Brady Marston, the Church of the Nazarene pastor in Alva. MIDDLE RIGHT: Flustered by all the photo-taking, Jennifer Marston laughs and glances up, maybe for inspiration, at one of the many signs around the office that say things like "Freely have you received; freely give." BOTTOM: Sometimes special treats come in, like all these Icee treats donated by Walmart. Things like this, says Marston, she may put out on a table in the main lobby on distribution days for people to take or leave as they choose.

"The Market sends donations; Chet is a big supporter," said Marston. "They bring us produce, and the Methodist church also does once a month."

"We pick up from Walmart three times a week," she said, adding that it could be quite a lot of food – more than 400 pounds on one occasion.

A few times a year, someone will butcher a cow and donate the meat to the food bank – sometimes every last bit of the meat, she said.

"We also have BankIt collecting money for us right now," she said.

To be frank, Marston said, a donation of money is hugely more effective than a donation of canned goods. That's because the Alva Wesleyan Food Bank's partnership with the state's food bank system means that she has access to purchasing food at phenomenally reduced rates – the kind of fantastic deal that shoppers will never find in regular stores.

Marston can order food from a list provided by the regional food bank in Enid. Depending on what the Enid food bank has in stock, Marston can get exceptionally good deals on bulk quantities. "I got 15 dozen eggs – one case – for about $1.25 for the whole case," she said. "So then all I have to do is go get or purchase egg cartons to put them into smaller batches for people. So for the dollar I can get a whole lot more than what people can purchase themselves at a store.

"This past month I brought in probably 2,800 pounds of food for under $1,000. Some of that is what the regional food bank calls 'freebies' – so, I got a whole pallet – 46 cases – of bread for free."

The freebies Marston puts out on long tables for people to choose from.

"We usually have a table of stuff for them to choose from. Right now we don't have the capacity for them to choose everything," she said, as with some food banks in large cities that work almost like grocery stores.

"But we try to provide some things they can choose from, like those little slurpees. And they can take as many of them as they want because we've got another whole case of them in the back," Marston said, and laughed joyfully. Abundance is just a joyful thing, no getting around it.

 

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