Project 66: Helping Ends Meet
When I arrived at the Project 66 Food & Resource Center, Roy Thomas handed me a shopping cart. My role for the afternoon was “a regular citizen” having financial problems and needing extra food to get me through the month. I expected Roy to hand me a bag of pre-selected groceries, maybe macaroni, green beans and a ham. I did not expect a choice, nor did I expect the personalized shopping assistance of my new friend, Roy.
“This isn’t about getting a box of food,” Roy said, “It’s about coming to a place where you are helped. We offer resources and give you an opportunity to share your problems, or not.”
What I learned was that volunteers at Project 66 are trained to dispel the idea that only poor or homeless people need food assistance. With the rising cost of living and more middle-class families living paycheck to paycheck, this isn’t the case. Project 66 has seen a 30% increase in visitation over the last year because of the recent teacher walk-out, government shut-down, and the rocky oil and gas industry.
“Our clients include seniors on a fixed income, grandparents raising grandchildren, college students and single mothers. Sometimes they only need assistance occasionally or during a financial crisis. Maybe someone got laid off or has a family member with cancer. Whatever is going on in your life, we want you to walk away feeling cared for, not judged,” Roy said.
In March, Project 66 expanded its operation in Edmond from a hodgepodge of shelves and old refrigerators to a brand new, larger shopping area that feels much like a regular grocery store. Many business owners in the community offered free and discounted services to get the building ready. This larger facility serves 500 families each month.
True to its name, Project 66 first originated in 2010 along historic Route 66 in Arcadia, serving food to the citizens of Arcadia, Jones and Luther. The faith-based organization functions with the help of three part-time employees and 19,000+ volunteer hours a year.
I met many of these volunteers as I toured; those who drive to the local grocery stores to pick up donated food, some board members stocking shelves, a man who comes in daily to sort cracked eggs from good eggs.
Volunteer Jim Brungardt shared his reason for spending multiple days a week at Project66. “I spent 35 years in the medical industry with people who had plenty. When I retired, I took a part-time job where I saw a whole different group of people who struggled to make ends meet. Now I volunteer to help them because they are neat people, appreciative people. I go out of my way to make sure they leave happy and they’ve been treated with dignity.”
“Our mission is to feed the hungry, but in the meantime, build some relationships that help people build a better tomorrow.”
For Roy, volunteering is a way to minister to people’s needs beyond just hunger. Project 66 consults with each client about other community resources that might be needed, from government assistance to counseling services. “I’m not bashful to say that many of us are from local churches, and we want to serve by helping our neighbors. Our mission is to feed the hungry, but in the meantime build some relationships that help people build a better tomorrow.”
As my “shopping experience” concluded, I was struck by the sheer volume of manpower required to move 780 thousand pounds of food each year! My last question of Roy was, “How can people help?” He replied, “What’s especially needed, what’s most important, are volunteers who make our clients feel cared for.”
Visit www.project66.org for details and hours of operation.