MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Financial support for summer youth programs canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be repurposed to help feed families during the coming weeks. 

City of Muskogee Foundation board members approved expenditures up to $84,520 for the program as it partners with Neighbors Building Neighborhoods, Hilldale and Muskogee school districts.

A box of food — enough to feed a family of four for a week — will be distributed to 450 families for nine weeks this summer beginning June 4. Volunteers will distribute boxes on a first-come, first-served basis at Hatbox Field, conducting a brief survey to collect statistical information from program participants. 

Nancy Gaden, board chairwoman, said the Rev. Marlon Coleman approached the foundation after a food giveaway at Antioch Church, where he is the pastor, revealed "a tremendous need." She said at the same time, foundation directors were learning about planned cancellations of summer programs that typically receive grants. 

Committee members met to discuss program possibilities with $84,520 available and worked out the logistics. Foundation directors approved the program on Monday during a special meeting. 

"People are just hungry right now," Gaden said. "They have lost their jobs, and they can't feed their families — that has to be a horrible position to be in."

Even before the pandemic, the rate of food insecurity in Muskogee County exceeded state and national levels. Feeding America's annual Map the Meal Gap showed 18.4% of Muskogee County residents — about 12,810 people — were food insecure, which in 2017 surpassed the 15.8% level statewide and 12.5% nationally.

More than 400,000 initial claims for unemployment have been filed in Oklahoma since March 21, according to USA Facts. a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic initiative. The data show 93,855 initial claims were filed the week of May 2, the most in a single week since the pandemic prompted the closure of many businesses. 

Gaden said details are being worked out, but the first event will be at 3 p.m. June 4 at Hatbox Field. Volunteers will place one box of food in the vehicles and conduct the surveys while encouraging social distancing throughout the process.

The city will provide safety vests for volunteers, who are expected to turn out in sufficient numbers to "keep the line moving." 

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