Much to her chagrin, in four decades as executive director of nonprofit The Urban Mission, Peggy Garrett has never had to worry about job security.
Founded in 1972, The Urban Mission supplies approximately 20,000 people per year with fresh food and an after-school program that gives children a warm meal.
“I’ve always said that I’d like to be put out of a job if people weren’t hungry or had to scramble around to feed their kids, but job security is high,” Garrett said. “I can tell when the economy starts to get better because the line gets shorter.”
Since moving to a new facility at 3737 N. Portland Ave. in 2000, The Urban Mission has expanded its efforts to feed those in need. In 2012, it became the state’s first pilot program to open a food resource center, a large facility where clients pick and choose from donated fresh food, usually enough to last for two weeks.
“It’s a really good system,” Garrett said. “It’s just like going to the grocery store.”
Urban Mission partners with Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and local grocery stores to supply the food. Potential clients bring identification, proof of residence in the coverage area and income qualifications to be eligible.
Clients can walk through the facility and peruse a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, a stark contrast to the mystery boxes they once received. They pay with points that are assigned based on the number of family members. Healthy products are worth less than sweets and dairy.
Garrett said the program, which was the first in the state, thanks to a partnership with Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and outside grants, is on track to give away more than 1 million pounds of food in 2017. There are now 13 similar programs in the state.
The food resource center services about 50 families per day, according to its coordinator Alex Jackson.
“We’ve seen an increase in volume of people in need,” Jackson said. “Over the years, food stamps have been cut and work has been hard to come by for people. It’s frustrating to see but also encouraging to see the community and volunteers rally around to support them.”
Jackson and Garrett said senior citizens and the disabled rely heavily on the food resource center because fixed incomes often can’t cover those living month-to-month.
“Too many people are having to choose between buying medicine and food,” Garrett said.
She arrived at The Urban Mission seven years after it was founded to help start an after-school program. Kids get help with their schoolwork, have access to a warm meal and play in a garden outside.
The mission is looking to upgrade the after-school program’s outdated computers, which are more than a decade old, Jackson said, by providing tablets for the children.
The Urban Mission will use the annual fundraiser Music & The Mission to help upgrade the after-school program and continue growth of the food resource center as well as other seasonal programs, like a backpack giveaway.
Music & The Mission is 6 p.m. Thursday at Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive. The event includes dinner and performances by Will Rogers impersonator Doug Watson and the Classen School of Advanced Studies’ choir. Tickets are $95.
“Our administrative costs are less than 2 percent, so almost all of the donations go to pay for programs,” Garrett said. “The food resource center takes up a lot of money, but the after-school program is so important because it helps kids make smart decisions.”
Garrett shows no signs of slowing down. She said The Urban Mission exists to fill the gap when other services aren’t available. She reflected on a recent phone call from a client who used the food resource center while waiting two years to get approved for disability benefits.
“We live by the golden rule. We treat people the way we want to be treated,” Garrett said. “He told me that we never made him feel inferior and that the food was always fresh. He wanted us to know that he couldn’t survive without us.”
Music & The Mission
6 p.m.-9p.m. Thursday
Oklahoma History Center
800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive
Print headline: Helping hand; The Urban Mission’s food resource center is on track to distribute more than 1 million pounds of food to families in need this year.