RSVP seeking volunteers to boost food box deliveries

Tools Plus co-owner Mark Morgan carries a box of food to the RSVP Senior Social Center, while Jerry Cooper, with Garfield County Detention Center, unloads boxes from the bed of a pickup, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. RSVP relies on volunteers to deliver or hand out more than 260 40-pound boxes of food the first Monday of each month to people in need from Enid and surrounding communities.

ENID, Okla. — RSVP of Enid is seeking volunteers from the community to expand the reach of its food commodity box program, which delivers or hands out food to hungry people in need each month.

The program in Enid started six years ago, through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program managed by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

People who are at least 60 years old, whose household income is less than 130% of the poverty level, can receive on the first Monday of each month a 40-pound box of food staples, provided by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

What started with 13 recipients in 2013 has grown to a program that provides more than 260 boxes of food each month. In November 2019, RSVP also became a pilot program for providing fresh produce, which is distributed along with each of the boxes.

Heather Helberg, director of the RSVP Senior Social Center at 202 W. Walnut, where the program is managed, said there is tremendous need for the program among many of RSVP's clients, and among the Enid community as a whole.

"We get calls around the first of every month, wondering when the boxes will be here, because they don't have much food left in their pantries," Helberg said. "It's heartbreaking to see how little some of these folks have."

She said the food boxes couldn't make it to those in need without volunteers.

Regional Food Bank delivers the food on pallets to Loaves & Fishes of Northwest Oklahoma, at 701 E. Maine. Volunteers from Tools Plus then pick up the pallets in the beds of their pickup trucks and deliver the food to the senior center, where it is unloaded by supervised inmate trustees from Garfield County Detention Center.

Community and senior center volunteers then stage the boxes, help load them into recipients' cars, and deliver them to those who have no available transportation.

At 264 boxes each month, Helberg said it is the largest distribution of its kind in the state.

"Without the volunteers this couldn't happen," Helberg said. "With two staff members here at the senior center, there's no way we could unload and deliver 264 boxes of food."

Ralph Cox, who is a senior center client, said he's been volunteering for several years with the food box program because he's one of the seniors there still able to lift the boxes.

"A lot of people have bad backs down here," he said, "so I just might as well help out."

Cox also helps deliver boxes to Meadows Point Apartments. "I live over there, so I thought I might as well help out," he said.

Volunteering has its rewards. Cox said he likes talking to the recipients, and just seeing the gratitude on their faces when they receive a box of food.

"There's a lot of hungry people out there, and a lot of homeless people," Cox said. "I just like helping them."

But, the hungry who receive food boxes aren't just from Enid.

Clients drive from Kingfisher, Cleo Springs, Pond Creek, Covington, Ames, Perry, Dover and Hitchcock each month to pick up food.

For those who don't have a vehicle, or someone to drive them, picking up 40 pounds of food can be a significant hurdle, even if their pantry is bare.

"We've had people come here only once to get a food box, because they couldn't get it home, or they couldn't make it back here," said Christy Baker, RSVP of Enid executive director.

RSVP of Enid does offer home delivery to some clients who can't get out, mostly in large senior apartment complexes. But for those homebound in individual homes, Baker said RSVP currently is at its limit for home deliveries, and cannot add more until more volunteers are available.

"We could offer more deliveries if we had more volunteers," Baker said.

She said it's heartbreaking when seniors who can't get a ride, or don't have a family or church member willing to pick the food up for them, go without, or struggle to get their food home.

Some travel across town on their motorized scooters and wheelchairs, to try to pick up food, Baker said.

"They would get here and then try to get home with a 40-pound box that's falling off their motorized scooter," Baker said.

She's hoping more volunteers will better enable RSVP to deliver the commodity boxes to those clients, and possibly serve more people in need.

Volunteers serve several hours the first Monday of the month, delivering boxes to addresses around town.

Because RSVP of Enid no longer accepts direct federal funding, volunteers no longer have to meet the previous minimum age limit of 55 years old.

Anyone interested in volunteering with RSVP of Enid can contact Christy Baker at (580) 233-5914 or Heather Helberg at (580) 237-1447.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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