Big Town Problems, Small Town Resources

Children receive food from the Afton Housing Authority

Afton, like many rural Oklahoma towns, has clear age lines, visible signs of decay. As local economies evolved from small towns toward urban centers, the hollowed-out remnants of small-town buildings that have ceased to operate, linger as a visible reminder of past lives. High unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and grandparents caring for grandchildren are issues that pervade the community and leave many in grim situations.
When locals turn to food resources, the only Afton grocery store closed long ago. There is a convenience store as well as a dollar store with limited selections of food items. Neither option provides much in the way of healthy food. The nearest grocery store is 23 miles away. Thankfully, a group of dedicated individuals from New Life Four Square Church, Grand Nation, and the Afton Housing Authority partner with the Food Bank to help ensure that children in the area have access to nutritious food.
Shannon Baker, Pastor of New Life Four Square Church, and Jennifer Hinson, Executive Director and Substance Abuse Specialist for Grand Nation, work hard to address the needs of the full-time residents of the lake community. Like for the people in Sportsman Shores, an enclave which began with hopes of becoming a lake area retreat. Now this struggling, reclusive community consists of mobile homes in varying states of disrepair. Most of the residents struggle each week to simply get by with essentials.

Carla, who now receives food assistance, started as a volunteer with Grand Nation helping to put food bags together with Jennifer. Between her own kids and grandchildren, she cares for six children. “The food helps tremendously. The kids love the carrots, they will grate them and eat them raw.” Carla’s husband is blind and had a kidney transplant. “The food is a blessing to us because we are on a fixed income.” Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, prices in the area have gone sky high. “Everything is getting so expensive in the stores.” When they receive produce from the Food Bank that allows her to allocate more money for meat and a few snacks for the kids to enjoy.
The family remains extremely cautious to make sure ‘grandpa’ doesn’t get sick. “The four-year old doesn’t understand why her friends can’t come over, and the eight-year old is really having a hard time adjusting to this.” When the packs of food arrive they serve as a good distraction for the kids. “Thank you. I appreciate everything the Food Bank does for us and for other people. We appreciate everything we get, and nothing goes to waste.”
“I love to see people when you give them food and you see that relief on their faces because they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. There is such a great joy with that.” -Shannon Baker

Susan Boyd with Residents

Jennifer Hinton describes some of Grand Nation’s work, “We are a community organization focusing on prevention, but understanding that families and individuals needed to be treated holistically. When we think about that, food is a basic need.” She went on to say that with COVID-19 the need is going to get stronger. “It’s super important that this relationship stays strong and we build on it. How could we do any of this without the food we get from the Food Bank?”
Susan Boyd, Executive Director of the Afton Housing Authority, makes sure the children who live on-site and in the surrounding neighborhood have had access to food this summer. “We have good moms and dads here who take care of their kids. But when you lose your job, it’s hard to get the stuff you need,” Susan said. “You can tell when these kids are hungry because it’s like they go downhill, they don’t have that smile. But they know if they’re hungry, all they’ve got to do is come here.”
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