EDMOND — In some ways, the Project 66 food bank is the spirit of Christmas past that keeps giving to thousands year-round.
The nonprofit, all-volunteer staff traces its beginnings to 2010 and the religious holiday. The ministry is a testament to one person’s vision to make a difference. That’s the way founder Melody Wilson tells the story.
“One year at Oklahoma Christian School, my daughter and I went out and tried to find someone who knew the true meaning of Christmas,” Wilson said. “We had a hard time then and decided we needed to get outside of our little bubble.”
Wilson had opened a restaurant in Arcadia and found there was poverty in the area. That’s when a telephone call was put into the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. She asked if there was a need for a food bank in the Arcadia/Edmond area.
“They almost came right through the telephone line,” Wilson said. “They were so excited and needed a presence here.”
The next step was to get a building. They found one in Arcadia for $100 a month through former Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon. With the building on State Highway 66, with its heritage as Route 66, that’s where the operation and name started.
Today, Project 66 has moved to Edmond, and the need remains. The pantry’s goal is to make sure a family gets enough food for a week.
In addition to basic food, the pantry keeps a supply of soap and cleaning materials.
Also always on hand is another basic: toilet paper. Wilson remembers a drive at Oklahoma Christian School where a student, instead of wanting birthday gifts, made an appeal for toilet paper. The pantry was swamped with it, and it was very welcomed by one woman. After a job loss, the family was nearly out of money and had given away their pets.
“She came in and only had 63 cents in her purse,” Wilson said. “She was so happy to see the toilet paper because she had just run out of it at home and wasn’t sure how she would get any more. It really touched my heart, and since then, I’ve always made sure we have toilet paper.”
Over the years, the needs and the budget have grown. Today, about $40,000 is needed annually — most going for rent, utilities and the most important purchase, food. There are tentative plans for Project 66’s own building.
Weighing the support
Many have stepped up to help the mission. One group is Gamma Zeta, of Edmond, the local chapter of the international philanthropic organization Epsilon Sigma Alpha. Recently the group made a cash donation and gave Project 66 a scale.
The scale is used to facilitate food donations from grocery stores. Donations are weighed immediately, which provides an accounting of what the store has contributed. It also cuts down on processing time by 75 percent.
“It’s made a big difference,” Wilson said.
Jacci Gantz, of Gamma Zeta, commented on the group’s assistance to Project 66.
“Every dollar Project 66 receives goes straight into action to help the lives of those less fortunate,” Gantz said. “They frugally use the gifts God has blessed them with. Project 66 is just one of the ways we can contribute.”
Each Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon and 6 to 8 p.m., needy residents visit Project 66 for food and other basics. Effective this month, Project 66 also is open from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wilson said.
The faith-based ministry continues to need volunteers and cash. In 2010, the number of people helped could be measured in hundreds. By 2011 it topped 4,000. It doubled last year, and Wilson sees even more people needing assistance this year.
With volunteers, Project 66 uses the “Sign Up Genius” computer program. That tells potential helpers how they may be of assistance and when.
“Seems like when I volunteered for groups before, I’d get there and there was nothing to do or too many people there already,” Wilson said. “This tells people how and when they’re needed. Some people are better at stocking in the back, and others are good with talking to people who need help.”
For now, Wilson doesn’t see an end to her ministry.
“I don’t see this ever stopping, especially with the economy,” she said. “God has taken care of us so well.”
How to help
To learn how to help with the mission of Project 66, go to www.project66.org or call 341-1353. Project 66 is on the campus of Oasis Church, south of the CVS pharmacy at 15th Street and Bryant in Edmond.