In 2010, Ladonna felt alone for the first time in 52 years. Multiple family illnesses led to untimely deaths, leaving her to fend for herself despite her own struggles with bipolar disorder, severe social anxiety and eventually multiple sclerosis. After some time, she spoke with the Oklahoma Health Department about ways to secure food, and one of their suggestions was Other Options – a local nonprofit organization providing various services to at-risk individuals, with a focus on those affected with HIV and AIDS. Ladonna eventually attended after hunger overcame anxiety.
“It takes a lot for me to feel comfortable anywhere,” Ladonna says. “When I went there for the first time, I didn’t feel like I was being judged; I felt like my mother was there again. She was the only one who understood me. For the first time since they left me, I knew I had a family, a place to belong to.”
Other Options became a surrogate family to Ladonna; a sentiment shared by the nonprofit’s volunteers and those who regularly rely on their care.
Founded in 1988 by Cookie Arbuckle, Other Options is a staple within the metro area for those in need of nutritious food, clothing and other necessities for survival. Now operated by Cookie’s daughter, Mary, this service extended to a mainstay in holiday hospitality: Cookie’s Thanksgiving. Since 1999, this annual event provides over 1,000 in-need families and individuals with prepared Thanksgiving meals, either in person or delivered upon request. Many, including Ladonna, look forward to this holiday with a newfound appreciation.
“Thanksgiving can be a hard time for a lot of us because there’s plenty that don’t have no one else,” Ladonna says. “I try to visit every day to see my family, but Thanksgiving is different. That’s when everyone gets to see why these people are God-sent. But, this year is going to be different.”
Readjustments to daily life, holidays and annual traditions are hallmarks of COVID-19 world. This weight of planning for a pandemic-friendly Cookie’s Thanksgiving is a task not lost on people like Mary Arbuckle and Jim Everett, the Pantry Manager of Other Options. Plans to modify the in-house holiday began as early as March.
“We knew things would not be ‘business as usual’ for Cookie’s Thanksgiving back when the rest of the country was coming to grips with everything,” Everett says. “Because of this, we’re having our volunteers prepare boxed meals and either delivering them to their houses or through our drive-thru service. This is to ensure that everyone is safe while still being fed.”
For those like Ladonna, this is a difficult, though necessary, transition.
“God, I miss my Other Option family every day,” Ladonna says. “But it’s things like Cookie’s Thanksgiving that remind me that I’ll never be alone.”
Everett continues to welcome all donation and volunteer efforts towards Cookie’s Thanksgiving. Donation and volunteer opportunities can be found on the Other Options website at otheroptionsokc.org.