OKMULGEE, Okla. — More than five months since the coronavirus outbreak, Oklahomans continue to struggle with food insecurity.
A total of 617,306 people received SNAP benefits in July compared to 574,513 in March, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS).
The government-run nutritional program provides financial aid to pay for groceries for available low-income families. During the pandemic, the federal CARES Act stimulus money has helped boost the benefits for individuals and families.
Raymond Gray Jr. from Okmulgee is one of those recipients.
"I only get $16 a month, but with the extensions, that $178 is extra," Gray said. "That carried me and those boys through the summer."
He explained how he took care of two of his young grandchildren when schools started to shut down, while his kids worked full-time jobs. Poverty wasn't anything new to him, but he knew he was going to need more help during the pandemic.
"I’ve been blessed with a wonderful, wonderful worker. She was so patient, kind, empathetic," described Gray of his social service specialist at OKDHS.
Beverly Ogden said she was just doing her job and helping out a resident in need. She knows too well how it feels to be in need of food assistance.
"I did struggle being a single mother and raising my two daughters," shared Ogden.
In 2001, she applied for SNAP benefits herself and ended up getting hired by OKDHS. She hasn't left since and has formed bonds with clients, such as Mr. Gray, over the years.
"I want them to feel at ease, 'Hey you’re not just a case, you’re not just a number,'" Ogden said.
She said asking for help sometimes comes with a stigma, but she wants people to know they're not alone.
"For somebody to take the time to make a person feel not like they’re out there looking for a hand out, but to talk to them like a fellow human being, that was major to me," Gray said.
He currently receives $16 a month, on top of the extra $178 from the stimulus money he received for several months when he had his grandchildren.
"Man, that carried me and those boys through the summer," Gray said.
With a smile on his face, he believes the rough times will get better by continuing to hold on to his faith.
Oklahomans needing food assistance can apply to receive SNAP benefits by creating an account online. For more information, click here.
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