Southeastern Oklahoma has one of the highest hunger rates in the nation, but on Tuesday the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma took a step they believe will make a big difference.
Two years of planning and a decade of dreaming - all came together August 28 in McAlester.
"The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma has been trying to get down here for a long time. So for all of us who work at the food bank, this is a really special moment," said Eileen Bradshaw, CFBEO executive director.
The Tulsa Food bank serves agencies in 24 counties - from the Kansas border all the way to Texas. That makes distribution difficult, particularly here in the southeastern corner where the food insecurity rates for children run at more than 25 percent.
"We know that there's a hunger issue here," Bradshaw said. "We want to serve it, and we have been to the best of our ability. But being here and being part of the community will really increase their access to food."
When its all up and running, the building can hold as much as 100,000 pounds of food. But what may be the most important part is right here - access to fresh produce.
"To have fresh food will be tremendous," said Carol Stuart. Stuart runs a food pantry at a church in Valliant, just north of the Texas border.
"About three times a year, we'll drive to Tulsa - which is about a three and a half hour drive for us - to pick up food and bring it back," she said.
Now Stuart, and the 77 other food pantry operators in the region, can come here once a month to pick up canned goods, bakery items, produce and even fresh meat.
Millie Vestal, 85, has run the food pantry at McAlester's First Christian Church for the past 12 years.
It can be a heartbreaking job, but this is a good day.
"I am just so excited," she said. "I've shed lots of tears and done lots of praying, and I feel like the Lord has answered lots of those prayers with the food bank coming to McAlester," she said.
September is Hunger Action month which will kick off with Restaurant Week around the Tulsa area.