By Chris Eversole
Area stores are donating large amounts of food to Mustang-based Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry, helping feed a growing number of people in need.
Volunteers from Loaves & Fishes regularly pick up unsold food from Walmart and Cash Saver in Mustang and from Starbucks in Yukon. Starbucks in Mustang will join in the donations when it opens.
“The companies are dedicated to reducing waste,” said Chuck Arnold, the food pantry’s director. “What they’re giving away is still good food, although they’re taken it off their shelves.”
The food includes frozen meat, produce and sandwiches. It supplements items from food drives and from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
Arnold started Loaves & Fishes, which is an outreach program of The Bridge Church, eight years ago. “I told Pastor Jim McNabb that the poor and hungry were near and dear to my heart, and he supported me,” Arnold said.
In its first week, the project served four families from a small room in the church. “It took a year to gain traction, and we’ve grown steadily every year,” Arnold said.
Loaves & Fishes serves about 80 people through its distribution each Thursday evening.
It operates from a metal building on the churches property, where it has refrigerators and freezers in addition to shelving for boxed and canned food.
The organization has no paid staff and relies upon its 30 volunteers, which include both members of the church and nonmembers.
The need is great. Arnold notes that 40 percent of the students in Mustang Public Schools are on free and reduced-price lunches.
Seventeen percent of the state’s residents are food insecure – meaning they don’t know if they will have enough to eat from day to day. “You would never dream that would be case,” Arnold said.
Loaves & Fishes has distributed more than 1 million pounds of food throughout its history, Arnold said.
His work with Loaves & Fishes led to him becoming the retail account manager for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. He took over the job when the national food distributor he previously worked for wanted to transfer him out of state.
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma provides food to 53 counties in Central and Western Oklahoma.
“I want to stay here and help meet the needs of Oklahoma, which is high on the list of states with working poor,” he said. “That’s a list you don’t want to be on.
Arnold is guided by regional food bank’s motto: fighting hunger … feeding hope. “Everyone should have good and nutritious food, regardless of their circumstances,”