By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The Newkirk House of Refuge Church, located in North Main Street, serves as the primary food bank and clothing closet for the community, providing much-needed items to those who are struggling. The fall and winter months are hard on the community, especially due to flu infections and the cold air, but with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, many more are struggling with job loss and quarantines, which have been depleting the food supplies at the church. House of Refuge is now reaching out to the community through a new food drive campaign through the month of October in an effort to keep the shelves stocked to keep feeding the community.
Items can be dropped off at the church, 612 N. Main, as well as eight other locations across the community, including the Newkirk Post Office, Newkirk Public Library, Capone’s Hoagies, Newkirk Tag Office, Equity Bank, Community National Bank, Main Street Bakery and Newkirk Dental Center. The food bank is open the first and third Saturday of the month, from 9 a.m. to noon.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a large part of the need for more food donations.
“Because of COVID-19, we have had an influx of people coming to the food bank and clothing closet. We’re trying not to go to once a month for the food and clothing closet,” said Pastor Doug Gatchell. “There is such a need for food and clothes right now, especially the food.”
The House of Refuge food bank has been open for several years, and while all who need food are welcome, there are two main demographics they help the most: families who are low-income or on a fixed income, and those who are homeless.
Low-income families can receive a box of food items they can cook at home, all based on current donations and dependent on whether they can provide proof of utilities, such as gas or electricity to cook the food on a stove or oven. Food bags are given to homeless individuals that can be easily consumed without much preparation.
Those options have been depleted, however, as many workers have been furloughed or even lost their jobs, forcing them to find a new means to feed their families.
“Because of COVID-19, we’ve been giving out more food. We’ve had people come from Ponca City and surrounding areas, to just come and get food,” he said. “Money has been tight, especially on fixed incomes. This has been hard on a lot of people, especially if they lost their job.”
Food donations are routinely accepted, from both individuals as well as businesses and other groups, and once received, it is divided into between the family boxes and homeless bags, based on food type, that way the bags and boxes are ready when people walk through the door.
“Once we get the food, we separate it and put it on our shelves,” Gatchell said. “Any food that comes in today (Friday), we start putting it in boxes to be ready for tomorrow. We inspect the food to see if it’s opened, punctured or out-of-date.”
There are many homeless people in the community, although some may be passing through, and they receive a bag of food items that may be eaten readily, or easily warmed at a convenience store. Gatchell estimates that about 10 homeless individuals visit the pantry a month. Even if they survive in a house, that house does not have utilities.
“I know there are quite a few (homeless individuals) we help that live here in town, but they do not have utilities, so we give them a bag,” he said.
Items placed in the homeless bags include canned meats, including chicken and seafood, with pop-top lids, fruit cups, canned fruit with pop-top lids, granola bars, peanut butter crackers and ramen noodle cups, which can be heated at a convenience store.
Families who do have utilities, and the ability to cook home meals, can receive a box of food items.
“The boxes go to people that can show us that they have electricity or natural gas, so that they can cook it,” Gatchell said.