Project 66: A Heart for the Community

project 66

On the surface, the Edmond area might not appear affected by the ebb and flow of the economy. But the founders of Project 66, a community food pantry, know better. “It is easy to see Edmond as an affluent community and be blinded by the need that exists right here,” said Kim Shirley, volunteer coordinator.

Project 66 does more than provide clothes and food to people in the Edmond/Arcadia area. According to founder Melody Wilson, its mission is and always has been about identifying a challenge in the community. “The long story is that it all started with my daughter’s fourth-grade teacher. She asked her to introduce three people who didn’t know Jesus to Him. What we realized is that we couldn’t find anyone in our little Christian bubble,” she said.

Around the same time, Wilson opened a Subway in her hometown of Arcadia. “I got to know these people instead of just driving by. These people were working hard but couldn’t make ends meet on $7 an hour,” she said.

Having found a need, Wilson and four friends searched for an opportunity to make their vision a reality. “When I called the Regional Food Bank to see if there was a need for a food pantry in our area, I thought they were going to crawl through the phone and hug me,” she said.

By word-of-mouth alone, the Project 66 founders managed to get the majority of their supplies donated. Their rent is just $100 a month thanks to the building’s owner, Aubrey McClendon, CEO and co-founder of Chesapeake Energy and co-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Desks, chairs and partitions came from a Baptist Medical Center remodel.

“I have a friend at the JCPenney in Norman. She donated all of the clothes racks,” says Holly Aparicio, who also helped found Project 66 alongside Shirley and Wilson. “We’re very fortunate to have them.”

From there, the team has built a detailed process to get as many Edmond and Arcadia residents food, clothes and help. The donation box outside is open 24 hours a day for donations. Each Thursday, from 10 a.m. to noon and 6 to 8 p.m., Project 66 opens the doors for clients, who crowd the waiting room to fill out client forms and wait to be helped.

Their first stop is the intake room. Each new client sits with a volunteer to start a file, discuss their family’s needs, and (if they wish) pray together. This helps Project 66 keep track of who is coming for help, how often and what they need most.

“One of the most moving experiences I’ve had was sitting at our intake office,” recalls Shirley. “We had a young couple with four kids come to us who were desperately in need of food. They were a typical Edmond professional couple, and the husband had lost his job in the downturn of our economy. They never pictured themselves at a food pantry.”

She says the experience helped her realize that anyone, including herself, could find themselves in the same situation. It is one of the many reasons they’ve put so much work into creating a supportive environment.

Once they’ve had a chance to speak with the volunteers privately, clients are assigned a floor volunteer who guides them through racks of clothes and accessories. From swimsuits to power suits, medical scrubs and handbags, there is no limit to what one might find among the racks, shelves and bins of donations from the community. Technically, clients are allowed one bag of clothes per family member, but Shirley says they are “very generous with the clothes.”

After the clients finish picking out their new duds, the volunteers take them to the food pantry. Project 66 is the only official Food Bank agency serving Edmond, and their donation system is “client choice.” Here, Project 66 visitors peruse the shelves themselves for fresh bread, produce and even cupcakes — much of which comes from Walmart Neighborhood Market on Second Street in Edmond. Volunteers help make sure clients get enough of each food group (including dessert) to feed the entire family for one to two weeks. In 2011, they fed 1,393 families representing 4,354 individuals.

Walmart, however, can’t do everything. According to Shirley, Project 66 needs at least 10 people to function during service hours and more for weekly maintenance and inventory. They feel fortunate to have had such a great response.

“There is a man who takes a bus to the Rolling Green Apartments in Edmond once a month to pick up anyone who wants to come here. He’ll come back twice if necessary,” Aparicio said. “He isn’t someone we knew, just someone who wants to do a good thing.”

For more information about Project 66 or to volunteer, call 396-3335 or email [email protected]

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