NORMAN — In the early ’80s, the oil industry went bust and, unfortunately, Norman didn’t escape the perils of a rough economy.
With tent cities of homeless families living at Lake Thunderbird, Harriette Kemp’s heart was pulled into a direction that she knew she had to follow.
“What touched my heart was that the school-aged children could not attend school because they did not have a Norman address,” Kemp said. “I talked to my bridge partners and made the comment as to ‘What can one person do?’ My friend, Kathy Barret, said, ‘I am on a committee at church that is looking at this issue. Why don’t you come to the next meeting?’”
From there, an interdenominational task force was formed to assess the needs of Norman’s homeless population. A through the night shelter was open, but due to fire codes, the shelter was forced to close.
“So Capt. Glenn Olson of the Salvation Army said, ‘If they’re homeless, they are probably hungry. Let’s start a no-cost feeding program,’” Kemp said.
From there, the idea of Food and Shelter was born. Churches created a rotating potluck lunch and, at the time, 22 churches were involved in brining meals to Goodrich United Methodist Church on Monday and Friday.
“I was fortunate that the oil bust had not completely hit us and I was able to volunteer full-time for the first five years while the agency got off the ground,” Kemp said. “My husband, Edmond, got the 501(c)(3) paperwork done, and we served the first meals in March 1983. With a $10,000 FEMA grant, we started to shelter in a rented house on Symmes.”
Kemp is still exceedingly proud of the way Food and Shelter cares for those who need a helping hand.
“The way the organization has responded and expanded to the needs of the community is incredible. One can say that there is no reason anyone should go hungry in Norman. That is quite a statement,” Kemp said. “I remember when we first started, a friend asked me about 10 years, and I said, ‘If there is a need, we will still be filling that need.’”