Tahlequah Daily Press


June 10, 2014

For Baughman, food security is a priority

TAHLEQUAH — It is a challenge for many in the community to have enough to eat, especially children and elderly.

For 23 years, the CARE Food Pantry has offered assistance.

CARE Food Pantry Manager Becky Baughman, also a volunteer, is retired from Northeastern State University in sociology and criminology, and from the U.S. Army Reserves where she was a criminal investigator.

Retirement left her longing for something meaningful to do with her time. After cleaning out her closets, she began baking pies.

“I used to love making pies, and I made really good pie crusts,” Baughman said. “I was making, and eating, a pie every day. But eventually I had to start going to Weight Watchers.”

That’s where friend Judy Lowery told her about volunteering opportunities with the CARE Food Pantry.

“Irmalee and Floyd Stierwalt were managers. I just really liked working with Irmalee. We could talk about all the experiences we had at Northeastern.”

When an alternate manager was needed for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma paperwork, Baughman was asked if she would take on that responsibility. Shortly after that she was thrust into the role of management when Irmalee was hospitalized, until she returned. The couple retired at age 85.

It is rewarding work for Baughman, who also serves on the board of O-Si-Yo Men’s Homeless Shelter, and for 20 years has served on the board of Oklahoma Production Center.

“OPC provides living experiences and social experiences for people with developmental disabilities,” she said. “They’re happy and active and have a wonderful life.”

A lot of the guys at O-Si-Yo and across the nation are veterans, she said.

“We owe them and need to provide for them,” Baughman said. “This is the United States; we don’t want people living on the streets. I don’t want to live in a society where people live in cardboard boxes.”

She’s served on the Help-In-Crisis board and was a member of the Nasturtium Garden Club.

The food pantry is her priority.

“I like the clients and I get acquainted with people. It’s interesting the characters you meet,” she said. “You feel like you’re filling a need in society. There’s a lot of people living on very limited income, and grandparents raising grandchildren.”

Baughman said she sees a lot of area residents who are food insecure.

“We have a lot of elderly people in Cherokee County living on $500 a month. They really need the food here,” she said.

The pantry provides sack lunches for the homeless or bags of food. The bags are provided to clients once a month for the first three months, then every other month.

“Volunteering gives me something to do where I feed like I’m making a difference,” Baughman said. “I’ve met so many great people and learned more about my community. I don’t think I realized how generous our community is. People come in and give us a check for $500 or $1,000 once a month or once a year.”

The CARE Food Pantry was founded by a consortium of churches that were each providing food pantries and joined together to provide one location and pool their resources.

According to Baughman, the most people they’ve served in one month is 1,000 in August. This past April they served 318, and of those, 88 people were 55 and older. In March they served 727 and in January 873.

Volunteers keep the food pantry open and providing assistance to those in need in the community.

“A volunteer is somebody who is willing to come in to work. Most of our volunteers are retirees,” she said. “They run the computer, work in the back filling orders and pick up donations.”

Some volunteers work once a month and some once a week. A few are available on call as needed besides their scheduled time. Mary Fulk coordinates the volunteers and sends out a monthly schedule.

New volunteers are always welcome, Baughman said.

“Give us a call, we’d love to have you. And if you know someone in need of food, please give us a call,” she said. “We can do emergency distributions in certain situations.”

Contact Baughman or leave a message on her cell phone at 918-456-4303.

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