By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
When looking for opportunities to volunteer or donate money to feed the less fortunate, good Samaritans’ attentions often are turned to America’s urban centers or to countries in the developing world.
But, locals looking for an opportunity to help the less fortunate and feed their fellow man need look no further than their own back yard, figuratively speaking. Volunteers have been gathering at 10th and Maple for more than a decade to feed the hungry at Shepherd’s Cupboard, a food pantry located at Bethany United Methodist Church.
Start small, grow from there
The food pantry was started 13 years ago by then-pastor’s wife Tara Foos and a small number of church volunteers. With a small collection of donated and purchased food, the women of Bethany United Methodist began providing food weekly to about 12 people.
The pantry has grown steadily throughout the years, and now provides food to more than 200 households twice a month, making it one of the largest food banks in western Oklahoma.
Ed Neighbors has overseen the pantry’s growth and service for most of the last 13 years, and at 80 years old still is a steadfast volunteer.
“When I retired I didn’t have anything to do, so I figured I’d help out, and I’ve enjoyed it,” Neighbors said.
He said the food pantry gave him an opportunity to serve and to use his time and energy in retirement for a useful purpose.
“I never did learn how to play,” Neighbors said. “I’ve worked all my life, and when I finally had time to play it wasn’t fun anymore. So, I come here and work.”
He soon became director of the food pantry, and oversaw its expansion from a cupboard stocked with 1,000 food items to a multi-floor operation that moves up to 22,000 pounds of food each month.
Helping each other out
Once a month a truck from Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma delivers about half of a 53-foot semi-load of food to the pantry. Volunteers move the food by hand along a makeshift system of rollers into the basement at Bethany United Methodist Church.
After the food is stocked in the basement, more volunteers file through the stacks of boxes and pallets, filling plastic grocery sacks with food to be handed out to those in need.
Volunteers move the sacks to the church’s ground floor, where they await the arrival of the hungry and needy.
Every third and fourth Tuesday about 200 people from one of Enid’s poorest neighborhoods arrive at the church. For two hours, from 10 a.m. to noon, volunteers work at a feverish pace to sort and pack food for those in need.
Neighbors said those in need often step out of line to volunteer, helping pack bags and carry packages for others.
“Most of them, they’re really good guys and women, most of them just come out of the neighborhood to help us and to help each other,” Neighbors said.
Relying on the community
Citing his age, Neighbors recently stepped down as director of the pantry’s operations.
“It feels very good to help people, but at 80 years old it’s time for somebody a little younger to take over,” he said.
Weekly operations now are overseen by Mike Phelan and a board of directors. The board is comprised of representatives from all of Enid’s five United Methodist congregations.
Phelan said food is supplied based on individuals’ levels of need and household size, but none are turned away.
“Anybody who shows up and asks for food, we give them food,” Phelan said. “We figure if they didn’t need food they wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
Phelan said Bethany heavily relies on other congregations and patrons to support the pantry operations.
“Our church is fairly small,” Phelan said. “We usually have about 40 people in services Sundays, and most of them are elderly. Most of our funding and a lot of our volunteers come from outside sources.”
In addition to volunteers from Bethany and other local churches, Phelan said about 25 volunteers travel regularly from surrounding communities to help out at the pantry.
“We get volunteers come in regularly from Waukomis, Helena, Ringwood, Jet, Ames ... they just work hard, and they have fun. We couldn’t do it without the volunteers. Those people work hard, but they have their rewards as far as being able to help people.”
“The volunteers here have been phenomenal,” said Bethany United Methodist Church pastor Kim Giles. “I think it’s because they see the need, and they also see that it is a well-oiled machine and that it works. I think people see the devotion of other people, and it’s a chain reaction kind of thing.”
Giles, who assumed the pastor’s post at Bethany in January, said she has been “very impressed” with the pantry and its volunteers.
“I feel very blessed to be appointed to a church that has such a ministry already in progress,” Giles said. “It’s a well-oiled machine, and it runs very well.”
Supporting the ministry
With an annual operating budget of approximately $35,000 and manpower requirements of about 40 people per week, it takes a lot of support to keep that “well-oiled machine” running.
Giles said the pantry’s largest single source of support has been Willow View United Methodist Church.
The congregation at Willow View dedicates six of its annual communion offerings to support the pantry, and teams of volunteers help sort and bag groceries each week.
Willow View pastor Lesly Broadbent said Shepherd’s Cupboard gives his congregation an opportunity to help the less fortunate.
“One of the reasons we do this is we realize we’re in a wealthy part of town in the northwest quarter of Enid, and we realized if we’re going to reach those who are in financial need we are going to have to go to them instead of just sitting here and waiting for them to come to us,” Broadbent said.
Broadbent said Willow View’s individual donors give far more than the collections taken up in church.
“We have a lot of people who see the Shepherd’s Cupboard as a very important part of their lives, and it’s important to them to support that ministry,” he said. “We have people in our congregation who grew up poor and hungry, and they’ve said they’ll do anything they can to prevent that from happening to anyone else, and they’re very generous in their giving.”
“We’re just very proud to be connected with the ministry at Shepherd’s Cupboard,” Broadbent said. “We saw God was doing something very special through Bethany, and we wanted to be a part of that.”
‘A gift from God’
Being a part of something special is a common draw for the volunteers at Shepherd’s Cupboard.
“They’re people that feel the calling or they feel the need to help people,” said Kenneth Rousselow, who has volunteered at the pantry for more than three years and now is the pantry’s volunteer director.
Like many of the volunteers at Shepherd’s Cupboard, Rous-selow got involved after he retired.
“When I retired, after about three or four days, my wife said ‘You’ve been sitting around long enough, you can volunteer at the food bank.’”
He joined his wife in volunteering at Shepherd’s Cupboard and soon discovered it was more than just a way to pass the time.
“We both just feel it’s a gift from God to be able to help people,” Rousselow said. “To me, it’s a very important mission, and it’s something that needs to be done.”
He said the volunteers are “very effective and very dedicated,” but more and younger volunteers are needed.
“The median age of our volunteers is probably in their mid-60s or 70s,” Rousselow said. “Sometimes we have to ask for help from the people who are there in line, and we always need more volunteers.”
For anyone interested in helping out, Rousselow said the application process is simple: “Just show up when it’s time to do the work.”
For information on Shepherd’s Cupboard contact Bethany United Methodist Church at 237-6611.
Donations may be made to Shepherd’s Cupboard care of Bethany United Methodist Church, 931 E. Maple, Enid OK 73701.