The Community Market of Pottawatomie County, a food resource center affiliated with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, officially has hit its first-year mark.

The Community Market of Pottawatomie County, a food resource center affiliated with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, officially has hit its first-year mark.

To celebrate its anniversary, the center invited residents to come to a Block Party Bash Friday afternoon at 120 S. Center. The event was hosted by Community Renewal.

The center is a group effort to end hunger in the area.

Community Market Executive Director Daniel Matthews said in the past year 1.5 million pounds of food has gone through the mission's doors. That equates about 1.27 million meals that have been on local dinner tables, he said.

The center also just established a community garden on the property in April.

He said they hope to grow the network even further in the next several years.

“There are now 12 of these in the state,” Matthews said. “Three more are under construction.”

In June he said the center crossed the mile marker of about 60,000 people being served at the center — the number is around 63,000 now.

“The need in our community has just absolutely blown us away,” he said. The organization did a survey with AARP to see what hunger looks like in this community, he said.

“The greatest mission field we will ever encounter is our own neighbors,” he said. “All we have to do is be willing to cross the street and be willing to offer help to someone,” Matthews said.

“We know that 47 percent of county residents in the last two years have either been food insecure themselves or someone in their family has been,” he said.

Thanks to the center, that statistic is beginning to change.

Matthews said since the center's opening, the access to food in the area is three times more than it was.

“We've doubled the amount of pounds of food going into Pottawatomie County and we've tripled the access,” he said.

He said the community is very fortunate right now, due to the team efforts and collaboration of multiple organizations.

“There are a lot of really good organizations working together, good leadership,” he said. “There's a lot of good going on.”

He said, his team takes care of the food, and other organizations take care of the whole person.

“Food is just the foundation, “ he said. “We have groups increasing the quality of life.”

He said the collaborative efforts are a neat puzzle that fits together well.

“Some focus on family, some focus on community, etc.,” he said.

Matthews said he is really excited about where Shawnee is headed.

As part of the celebration, Extreme Inflatables brought bounce houses. There was food, snow cones and activities, as well as musical entertainment from local singer Justin Robbins — and no birthday party is complete without presents.

Matthews said during the festivities a family four-pack of bicycles was given away.

“The bikes went somewhere they needed to go,” he said. “None of the kids (in the family) had bikes.”

He said the giveaway was a lot of fun to be able to do.

Current support for the Community Market comes from the Avedis Foundation, which has invested $750,000 into the Community Market and has also played a vital role in the development of the center, as well as the Regional Food Bank.

Other community partners include: AARP, Family of Faith Church, Gordon Cooper Technology Center, Mission Shawnee, Oklahoma State University Extension, Salvation Army and United Way.

Avedis President and CEO Michelle Briggs said the foundation is pleased that the Community Market has had the ability and capacity to serve so many clients this first year of operation.

“At the same time, we are overwhelmed to recognize the tremendous need we have in our county,” she said. “Our hope and prayers are that the market will some day no longer be needed at all.”

She said the addition of the community gardens this spring added to fresh vegetable offerings for clients. “We are extremely proud of our Executive Director, Daniel Mathews, his staff and all of our amazing volunteers that show our clients kindness and respect every day while helping them provide healthy meals for their families,” Briggs said.

Also, through local food pantries, the Community Market coordinates educational programs within the community.

On July 20, from noon to 5 p.m., a Kids Chopped Challenge is being hosted by the center.

Competitors 9 years old and older will learn basic cooking and nutrition skills through games and activities presented by 4-H and Pottawatomie County OSU Extension. Then, they will compete against each other in a cooking contest. Cost is $25 per competitor. Scholarships and partial scholarships are available.

Another big gathering coming up at the center is the Harvest Moon farm-to-table dinner and fundraising event in October.

“The center will be selling tickets for it soon,” Matthews said.

As always, volunteers and donations are welcome any time.

Volunteer Program Administrator Kati Harris said there are ample opportunities for even the busiest of volunteers to serve; the market welcomes additions to its team of helpers.

For more information, call (405) 788-4957 or visit ourcommunitymarket.org.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.