By Joey McWilliams
DURANT – Families Feeding Families has been doing just that – feeding families – in the Durant area for more than a decade.
The average for June was 160 meals per day and FFF usually provides 2,500-3,000 meals each month.
However, for the last year the ministry has been one without a true home base.
For 13 years, FFF operated out of the building that used to house George Washington Elementary School.
But early last summer, difficult circumstances precipitated a move outdoors, according to Leticia Burkhalter, director of Families Feeding Families.
“We started feeding people outside in June 2016 because of some air conditioning issues and it was easier to go outside,” Burkhalter said. “Outside we were getting a breeze.”
And the group has been serving outside since that time.
“The Durant Schools had provided a building that was unoccupied for 13 years,” Burkhatler said. “And they allowed us to serve and cook and to use that building as we needed. But with the state cuts and situations regarding funding needs, they were going to need rent or the ability to do something with the building to assist in the school district’s needs a little bit more.
“So we moved out and we are now cooking either from homes or various other locations, such as churches, and we serve at the Keithley Park, just down the street from the George Washington school by the splash pads. There is a set of picnic tables and it’s covered by a pavilion and we meet there Monday through Friday at 4:30 (in the afternoon) and serve there.”
Burkhalter said during the time FFF was at the George Washington building, the school covered basically everything financially. The organization did not pay rent, but did repairs and maintenance.
“Since they were already using the school with their alternative program, they allowed us to use the cafeteria with no fees,” Burkhalter said.
With the challenges that go with being outdoors, Burkhalter said the group has kept going well.
“We’ve been really blessed being outside with the weather and the situation, it’s worked out amazing well,” Burkhalter said. “But we know that it’s just a matter of time and we do need a building so that we can meet more needs and it’s safer for the patrons.
“Because our patrons have different situations, such as health issues or financial issues, and some shelter and a little bit of air conditioning or heat would be helpful for them. And it would give us more of an opportunity to really minister and to visit with the patrons to find out what their additional needs are.”
The George Washington building is home to Vision Academy. The mission of the academy, according to the Durant ISD website, is to provide students who have dropped out of school and high challenge students who are at risk of dropping out with an alternative path to success. The school’s virtual academy is run from that location as well.
Red River Arts uses space there also, according to DISD Superintendent Duane Merideth, and some art lessons are given and art curriculum supplied for students. The Safe Schools offices have been in there, too.
As for future plans for the building itself, Merideth said it is for sale, and that the district has gone through the proper route to get that done.
“The laws says that in order to sell a school building, the No. 1 thing is that the board has to declare it ‘surplus,'” Merideth said. “The law says you have to have a sealed bid offering for the purchase of it. The bid must meet 80 percent of appraised value.
“We’ve done that. We got no bids.
“But then after you’ve done that and you’ve met the statutory requirements, then and only then, you can go out and sell it as you would be selling your own house and take a reasonable amount for it. But it is currently for sale.”
Merideth said he hopes that someday someone would be able to find a great use for the building. And in the mean time, a place could be found for the school programs that currently occupy the building.
“We have some area over at the middle school, the old high school, that we could do some renovations to and put them in a nice place. And from a district perspective, maintaining and paying utilities on one less building is always a good thing, especially one as old as that one is.”
Burkhalter said FFF was thankful for the time spent working with the school.
“We tremendously appreciate all the school has done and has been willing to do,” Burkhalter said. “Not only have they provided that building for so many years, there were many times they came down and actually helped serve, from administration to teachers to assistants serving.
“We worked together for years and they played an integral part of this program growing. They’ve been a blessing.”
Currently, FFF is getting meals to those who need them from 4:30 to around 5:15 p.m. each weekday.
“Usually until the patrons get through eating or we run out of food,” Burkhalter said.
Burkhalter said there are some leads toward getting in a more permanent facility.
“We do have some people in the community that are wanting to see us in a building, so I think it’s just a matter of prayer and of time and letting everything come together. But we do want the community to be aware of it and to know that their suggestions or offerings are very much appreciated.”
To contact Burkhalter about Families Feeding Families, call (580) 230-9142 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.