Many of us take the annual Thanksgiving experience for granted. The turkey, the sides, the overload of desserts. Which family will we visit this year? Who is bringing their famous pecan pie? It’s so easy to get caught up in the food, family, and football aspects of the holiday.
What if we had nowhere to celebrate or even eat at Thanksgiving? What if our family was out of our lives for reasons beyond our control? What if we had nowhere to eat or sleep? Or, what if we just need some help with gathering the grocery items that are normal staples in our pantry?
There are many people in Enid that ask themselves those questions not only on Thanksgiving but every day of the year. In this issue, we take a closer look at several of the local organizations that make it a priority to give back at Thanksgiving, even while facing the challenges of COVID-19.
Our Daily Bread
Our Daily Bread, 616 W. Randolph, is a soup kitchen founded by St. Frances Xavier Catholic Church. The church started seeing a need for food for the homeless in Enid as far back as 1958, when Father Paul Gallatin, then a pastor at St. Francis, started serving sandwiches to the needy out of the church rectory. The current location was made possible by a building campaign in 2001. Meals are served five days a week under the direction of Val Ross.
Earlier in September of this year, Our Daily Bread was forced to close for two weeks for quarantine due to COVID-19. According to Ross during our phone interview, “During Pre-COVID times, we would serve 100-150 for lunch. From March 2020 to the present, that number increased to 400-500, reaching a peak of 570 meals in late August.” The kitchen provided only to-go service during the coronavirus outbreak in order to lower the risk of exposure.
During the emergency closure, Dan Scheidel, Executive Director of United Way of Enid, spearheaded arrangements for assisting Our Daily Bread, even though the Our Daily Bread is not a partner agency. “During COVID, we expanded our net,” explains Scheidel. “We thought, ‘how do we help everyone?’”
For two weeks, breakfast and lunch were served on-site by the Salvation Army Canteen. Volunteers were sourced from the American Red Cross, City of Enid, local grocers, businesses, churches, and organizations. “It was so great that the Salvation Army was able to serve at the location everyone was used to,” Scheidel adds.
As for serving a Thanksgiving meal, it is actually the one day of the year that Our Daily Bread takes a much-needed holiday. The Knights of Columbus step in to serve a full traditional spread across the street at St. Francis Xavier Church. “Thanksgiving seems to bring out a lot of volunteers, but there are people coming to us every day because of financial insecurities,” Ross explains.
Salvation Army Captain Amanda Brittle was called upon by Scheidel and was instrumental in organizing volunteers and donations for the Our Daily Bread relief effort. “We are blessed to have every spot filled,” she reports on the day of our interview. Captain Amanda and her husband, Captain David, filled the administrative posts at the Enid Salvation Army, 518 N. Independence, only a few months prior. “We are so thankful for how giving the Enid community is,” says Captain Amanda.
The Salvation Army provides shelter for homeless or uprooted individuals, helps with utility bills and groceries, has resources for family needs, and offers spiritual assistance. Their annual Angel Tree Project prioritizes critical help for children who would otherwise not have Christmas gifts to open. Charlee Lainson, Case Manager, tells of how she was assisted by the Salvation Army programs in the past and is proud to say she’s come “full circle” in being able to help others.
As for Thanksgiving Day, the Salvation Army goes all out with a “huge” dinner, according to Lainson. Ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, cheesy hash browns (Lainson’s contribution), green beans, stuffing, and assorted pies are served “restaurant-style” in the dining area, and this year they are prepared to social distance, if necessary. Church volunteers from Enid First Assembly help serve the feast and all guests also take home a Bakery Basket filled with pastries, apples, oranges, mints, and the like. Monetary donations through one of the Salvation Army’s “mail appeals” are essential to providing the complete Thanksgiving dinner each year, according to Captain Amanda.
Chef Brian Chance has worked for the Salvation Army for four years and counting. He explains that he is able to special order a lot of the holiday trimmings such as cranberry sauce, brown sugar, and marshmallows from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Locally, Jumbo Foods arranges for 300 low-cost turkeys for the event as well as for food boxes containing other traditional items for families. The center regularly receives large food donations from Jumbo, Walmart, and Aldi with most everything being utilized. The center’s year-round Pantry Program provides grocery assistance to families. Chef Chance explains that the kitchen provides at least one hot meal a day, 365 days a year. The only exception may be a sack meal when he does an annual dismantling of the kitchen.
Toni Hitner is vitally important in their kitchen, too. She began by volunteering her time and now works from 6:00 am to 10:00 am at the Salvation Army before going to her second job as Deli Manager at Jumbo Foods West. When Our Daily Bread was shut down, she single-handedly cooked chili for over 300 people. (Chance was on disaster relief in Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana at the time.) Hitner is another alumnus of the shelter and is appreciative of the Salvation Army for helping her in the past, and enjoys being able to make a contribution to lifting up others now. “You have to work hard for what you get in life,” says Hitner. “I didn’t understand that early on…now I do.”
It becomes evident that staff at the Salvation Army are no strangers to giving back. In fact, over half of their workers are doing so in one capacity or another. According to Capt. Amanda, Chef Chance uses his talents to give back to fellow culinary students who have fallen on hard times. Chance comments, “As long as my heart’s full, who needs a (full) wallet? I don’t want for anything.”
Loaves and Fishes
Loaves and Fishes, 701 East Maine, is not classified as a meal service, but is a grocery assistance program relying mainly on the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. “Retail recovery” from Vance AFB Commissary and the local Walmart stores is the next largest provider, with private donations, food drives, wholesale purchases of dairy products and groceries along with produce from Faith Farm, a nearby production and teaching garden leases by Loaves and Fishes, making up the remainder of needed items.
With COVID-19 entering the picture in early 2020, Loaves and Fishes made the difficult decision to only distribute boxed food in a drive-thru setting instead of continuing to allow visitors the opportunity to make their own food choices from their indoor pantry. A citywide food drive was also canceled in an effort to keep the needed 400+ volunteers safe from contracting the virus. The demand for grocery assistance increased by 25%, and without private contributions, meeting the needs of Enid’s hungry would have been crippled.
“We have had to place the shopping experience on hold,” Lydia Kelley, Executive Director, explains. “We had to take away the choices, but are providing a way for food to make it to tables that need it. Through drive-thru box distribution, participants are given shelf-stable items such as tuna, peanut butter, cereal, rice, and pasta as well as fresh produce (based on donations of local gardens). Eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt complete the boxes.”
On Loaves and Fishes website, a client comments: “I can’t afford meat and fresh fruit and I love that Loaves and Fishes always has those items.”
Jeremiah and Sarah Herrian, Directors of Forgotten Ministries, relocated to Oklahoma in 2010 when they recognized a need for helping the “forgotten” in the Enid area.
The Herrians met while living in California. A pivotal moment came when they were invited by a group of church friends to visit Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. According to Jeremiah, “Skid Row consists of 10,000 homeless in a four-block radius filled with gangs, drive-by (shootings), stabbings… I had never seen anything like this, especially in the United States. This single visit truly changed my life.” They later married and opened a mission in Skid Row just six days after their honeymoon.
On an extended trip to visit family in Enid, the pair realized a real need for additional community resources for the homeless and struggling citizens. After moving here, they organized an event called “The Walk,” which involves participants carrying a cross and walking through numerous cities in a month’s time doing service projects and feeding the needy. It was there that Peggy Grisham, Forgotten Ministries Executive Assistant, met the Herrians. “It changed my whole life,” recalls Grisham. “I began volunteering and have been with Forgotten Ministries for 10 years.”
The ministry is totally run by volunteers and private donations and receives no federal assistance, according to Grisham. “The Church Has Left the Building” is more than a motto. It is put into action by the variety of outreach programs offered: Mercy House, Paradise Garden, The Oasis, Refuge at the Well, and Kids Program, located at 1714 South 4th. Five80 Coffeehouse and Copper Tap Roasting Company, downtown Enid, are also an important part of the ministry.
The Mercy House is a seasonal homeless shelter, open July through August and November through February, providing clothing, food, and housing for people in need. It is also where a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is held and it is open to all to attend. In fact, evening meals at the Mercy House are always open to everyone, any night November 1 through February 29, according to Grisham.
Another program called “Park Outreach” at Don Haskins Park, 515 E. Maine, happens regularly on Tuesday evenings throughout the year including special events for Thanksgiving and Christmas. On the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving, 10-20 turkeys are given out by raffle in addition to a sit-down meal being served in the park. Crowds gather to enjoy food and fellowship provided by Forgotten Ministries and many volunteers.
Youth and Family Services
Youth and Family Services was founded in 1974 to provide temporary shelter and addresses the special needs of children age 0-17 affected by abuse, neglect, and delinquent behavior. At the time the Garfield County Jail was the only temporary shelter for many of these youth. The center also offers family, individual, and group counseling as well as programs in tutoring and mentoring.
The shelter has beds for eighteen youth and is run by seven volunteers and two staff members. Living away from familiar surroundings is difficult at any time of year, but at the holidays it can be especially tough. Tenille Chesnut, Shelter Supervisor, hasn’t spent Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day with her daughter in 22 years. She is always found at the shelter, sharing her day with the residents. Joanna Moats, Residential Director, and Tree Perkins, Director of Development agree that Chesnut stands out as the “rock and heart of the shelter.”
Thanksgiving Day starts at 7:00 am when Chesnut prepares for the meal. “The kids help me by peeling potatoes. Some have never had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” says Chesnut. She always sits down with the group and discusses the menu beforehand. “One boy had never heard of deviled eggs, so I made two dozen that year…I think he ate half!” she chuckles.
While preparing and eating their holiday dinner, they watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (one of the few times television is allowed during a meal), next comes the National Dog Show and then the group watches football. The Transitional Living Program youth, ages 18-22 are also welcome to attend the holiday meal with the youth at the shelter. “But, no phones at the table!” says Chesnut.
Chesnut recalls one boy, aged 13 or 14 who was actually approved to reunite with his parents at Thanksgiving time. He was finding it difficult to leave the familiarity of the shelter, so Chesnut gave him the choice to go with them or stay with his “shelter family”. He decided to stay and spend Thanksgiving Day with Youth and Family Services, much to the surprise of his parents.
The staff tries to make the shelter experience as pleasant as possible for the children who stay there. There are firm boundaries and rules to abide by, but when some residents have been transferred to other shelters, they plead to come back to Youth and Family Service. “Several have even come back to work with us,” says Moats. “Many of our residents are here from word of mouth or being referred by other shelter kids.
As with many things in life, it’s the people who make the difference. Giving back at Thanksgiving, and every day of the year, is desperately needed in Enid. The organizations spotlighted here are inspirational in showing how giving back not only helps the recipient but blesses the giver.
For more information on how to give back, visit:
Wishing You and Yours a Blessed Thanksgiving!