Oklahoma has a plate-full of health woes that can be tied directly to our daily diets; it's why we're one of the nation's unhealthiest states.
But in Sand Springs, Sandra Armstrong is trying to do something about that - if only she could get someone to listen. It's her lonely quest to make Oklahoma So Much More.
West of Sand Springs, the Forest of Peace comes by its name honestly - a retreat center in the CrossTimbers Forest, where visitors from around the world come for spiritual nourishment.
And in the kitchen, it's Sandra Armstrong providing for their nutritional sustenance.
“As a gift to my neighbors to promote health,” she said.
Health and cooking has become a focus of Sandra's life, and once a month at Hillspring Church, with her kids and husband Eric in tow, she takes over a back room with a single, simple, mission, to offer her neighbors in Sand Springs a healthier option to the traditional Oklahoma diet that's killing and crippling so many of them.
“I think it's time for people to be able to see that there's something else out there other than the norm,” Sandra said.
Last year, after seeing my story on the plant-based meals that have healed hearts and reversed disease in Marshall, Texas, Sandra and Eric - a behavioral therapist - had an epiphany.
“He actually saw the news segment and he put it on pause and he said, 'Honey, honey, come here, you gotta see this,'” Sandra said.
Eric said, “Seeing something like that going on kind of helped us give us hope to say this is something we could actually try to do for ourselves here, and hope it could catch on,”
“So I went and looked at it and thought, ‘if they're doing that in the middle of meat-eating Texas, there's hope for Oklahoma,'” said Sandra.
But hope is a fickle thing, and for there to be hope, someone has to show up besides the woman who wandered in handing out toothbrushes and Sandra's friend, Carol Jean.
“We are definitely all in this together and we need to back each other up,” Jean said.
It was after 12 years as a nurse tech at St. Francis hospital, and all the unnecessary suffering she saw, that led Sandra to the lonely evening potlucks.
“A lot of times the really chronically ill patients would always say 'well, if I would have known,' and that's something that I heard a lot, over and over, ‘if I would have known this maybe I would have tried this,'” she said.
Sandra would like that 'this' to be plant-based meals - something she figures fills her family's plates 80 percent of the time now.
But she's quick to point out the get-togethers aren't meant to convert meat-eaters, even though eating mostly plants, Eric's off his hypertension medicine after side-stepping a stroke and shedding 40 pounds.
“If they can get me to eatin' that type of food, and then see the benefits of it, then there's hope for anybody,” he said.
Hope for anybody, except for the ones who don't care to hear it.
On the quiet nights, in the empty back room, from the woman who spent so many others comforting the sick, the ones filled with regret who claimed they didn't know, who never pieced it together until it was too late.
“I saw a lot of people get ill that probably didn't need to necessarily have to get ill. I saw a lot of sickness, a lot of disease, things that are really preventable that didn't have to happen, and if you can help someone prevent that, if you can help someone find an answer to something they didn't think there was an answer to, I think that's worth it,” Sandra said.
She's been at it for many lonely months and her spirit is flagging, so if you're so inclined, and have a plant-based dish and printed recipe you can whip up and would like to share, she'll be at Hillspring Church a 8801 West 41st Street in Sand Springs next Tuesday night, June 30th.
Dinner starts at 6:30.
If you'd like to get in touch with her you can sent her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.