The Tahlequah Day Center needs new donations, as the number of lunches served has reached record numbers in recent months.
"The need is really high," said Ed Blanchard, case manager. "I do believe this ties to the instability of our economy. More people are at risk of homelessness. They're trying to supplement what their money goes to. They're saving back for rent and electricity."
In 2020, the Day Center served 29,209 lunches, which is almost double what was recorded in 2019.
"Last month, we broke three records. We served over 100 lunches for 17 days. The all-time high of a single day was 192 lunches, and it was the largest month with 3,129 lunches served," said Blanchard.
The Day Center, 309 S. Chief Sam Pinson Lane, was developed through a partnership with the Zoë Institute and the Tahlequah Area Coalition for the Homeless. According to the Zoë website, the Center exists "to provide services for individuals who are at risk of, or are experiencing homelessness and addressing the complex needs of the individuals through the networking collaboration of other human service organizations."
Before the pandemic, hot lunches were served for about an hour each day inside the Day Center. Now, brown-bag lunches are handed out Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday.
"The timeframe is a little bit bigger, so people don't have to wait in line as long and they can social distance," said Blanchard.
A coalition of churches helps serve on Sundays, and they are usually hot meals.
"It's a great partnership," said Blanchard.
The sack lunches have two sandwiches - one peanut butter and jelly and one meat - and usually include chips, fresh fruit, and bottles of water.
"We try to be as healthy as possible with the lunches," said Blanchard. "They get two sandwiches so they can eat lunch and save something for dinner. That's a lot of sandwiches."
Community members and organizations have volunteered to help make and supply the sandwiches, but Blanchard said it usually isn't enough, and the Day Center needs food on site.
"The community has been such a blessing for pouring out for people in need. They step up and meet the need of hunger," said Blanchard. "We can always use more volunteers to make sandwiches. We are very grateful for all the help."
Those interested in volunteering or donating can find information on the Tahlequah Area Coalition for the Homeless Facebook group page.
Items needed for the lunches include: bread, sandwich meat, cheese, chips, fruit, bottled water, and lunch sacks. Blanchard said hot drink mixes are also appreciated during the colder months.
In normal times, the Tahlequah Day Center would be open to assist clients with paperwork, computer needs, laundry, clothing, blankets, showers, and more.
"We're not allowing huge groups to come in. We are allowing clients who need to come in and shower. That is easy to sanitize. They can show up as needed," said Blanchard. "We are very limited on space for storing things. We try to keep it to emergency things."
Blanchard suggests donating blankets and clothing, especially cold-weather gear, to the Hands of Grace Warehouse, which is operated by the Zoë Institute in partnership with Cherokee County Christian Ministerial Alliance.
"The Zoë Institute has been great and supportive of keeping everything open," said Blanchard. "Zoë and TACH have done a great job to meet needs and help everyone out in this time."
For more information about services offered through the Zoë Institute, 309 S. Muskogee Ave., call 918-453-9778 or visit www.zoeinstitute.com.