Oklahoma nonprofit offers ‘Community Care Chests’ to needy
Gary McAlpin, Sweetwater Foundation founder, holds open an old newspaper racks that he turned into Community Care Chests to help Tahlequah-area people in need of items such as food, school supplies and diapers. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH (AP) – Area residents in need will soon have more opportunities to get staple items, as Sweetwater Foundation is making Community Care Chests available here.
The chests are actually repurposed newspaper racks, and they will be filled with items ranging from food to school supplies to diapers.
While the Sweetwater Foundation was established to support children with cancer and their families, founders are branching out to help all in need, the Tahlequah Daily Press reported. The nonprofit Sweetwater Foundation currently has three projects under its umbrella: Community Care Chests, Kai’s Warriors Against Childhood Cancer and The Community Cup.
“I hope it meets some needs where their needs aren’t being met – real physical needs,” Gary McAlpin, Sweetwater Foundation founder, said. “The food pantry is available, but you have to go during their hours and have specific information. Plus, there is a stigma about it to some people. This is an easier way to get basic needs in the hands of those who need it.”
A woman at McAlpin’s church in Tulsa was aware of The Community Cup project the Sweetwater Foundation is working to establish, and thought they could be used in a way to help the community.
“Tulsa Boys’ Home got them from the Tulsa World and painted them Jackson Pollock style. Nonprofits have been getting them in Tulsa for years,” said McAlpin.
Before they were donated, the racks had their coin mechanisms removed and a wooden piece was inserted to make the bottoms stationary. A shelf could be inserted or bins used, depending on the size of the items put in the racks.
A Sweetwater Foundation logo will be put on the racks, but those who adopt the boxes are welcome to paint around it or add their own designs. The inside sleeve where the display newspaper was held is still in the racks, so information or logos could be slipped inside that.
McAlpin has had commitment from A Bright Start Development Center, Tahlequah Family Medicine Clinic, Oklahoma Production Center and Sequoyah High School Student Council, of which his son, Liam, is a member.
“He wants to put school supplies in it for the students who are too embarrassed to ask for them. Some of the dorm kids need things, like shampoo or soap, and they don’t have necessarily have family nearby,” said McAlpin.
A clinic representative told McAlpin that because they see a lot of children, they want to put diapers, formula and such things in the racks they adopt.
OPC will place its rack outside of its Down to Earth Ceramics, Glass and More shop on Keetoowah Street.
“We’ll probably let the art store decide what goes in it. Knowing them, it’ll be art supplies for starving artists,” said Daniel Perry, OPC executive director.
If more racks become available, and McAlpin wants to expand to Fort Gibson, Perry said he would take one or two, as OPC has a resale shop and recycling center there.
Perry is supervising the cleanup of the racks and is willing to transport them to where they will be set up. He has offered to pick up more racks if they are donated.
“OPC is an important part of the community. He’s a good guy with a good heart to help the community, and this community needs it,” said McAlpin about Perry.
While the businesses or organizations that adopt the racks will be primarily responsible for the upkeep of the racks, McAlpin said he would check on them, as well.
“A large chunk of people don’t accept help because of the way they were raised. There’s a mom like that whom I had to convince to accept our help, even though she got fired because her kid has cancer and she has to take care of him,” said McAlpin.
He said he has to tell her the help or items are not for her, but for the child.
McAlpin knows the heartache and struggle families go through when a child has cancer. His son Kai fought and suffered from a rare form of cancer before he passed in March 2017.
Kai’s Warriors Against Childhood Cancer was set up to “provide financial, mental and interfaith spiritual support to families and their children,” according to Sweetwater Foundation’s website.
The Community Cup arm is to be an “interfaith community ministry and development outreach” in a coffeehouse setting. The idea is taking shape, as an artist who is renting a building in downtown Tahlequah for a gallery is offering the space to Sweetwater Foundation.
McAlpin plans to have an office for the foundation, as well as space for community members to hang out, have open mic nights and host special events.
“We hope to fill emotional and spiritual needs – just friendship. Plus, coffee will be available,” said McAlpin.
They hope to have the building in the next couple of weeks, but it will take time to get the furniture and decorations in. Ideally, he would like to get a sound system installed, and a refrigerator and coffee maker are needed.
“We have to be able to cover the cost of utilities, so we are looking for grants,” said McAlpin.