In treatment for ovarian cancer, a metro-area woman seeking healthy food alternatives connected with a local ministry through a cooking class.
Now Vernelia McKnight not only sings the praises of the ministry called A Table in the Wilderness, she is helping to teach some of the organization’s classes.
“To be truthful, I feel it was a godsend to me,” McKnight said of the nonprofit. “Anytime, they’re having something, I want people to know about it.”
A Table in the Wilderness, with McKnight on board, will start the new year by expanding its efforts to help Oklahomans eat healthier. This year, a new plant-based food pantry, one of the ministry’s biggest projects, will come to fruition. Laurel Mauldin, the organization’s chief executive officer and president, said the ministry is partnering with Feed the Children to help stock the pantry.
The organization was started several years ago by Mauldin and her father, Lamar Mauldin. The father-daughter duo initially focused their programs on eastern Oklahoma County, which includes northeast Oklahoma City. Northeast Oklahoma City, up until the opening of a new Homeland store in 2020, was considered a food desert because of lack of grocery stores and healthy food options.
The Choctaw pair said their goal is to promote healthy eating because it helps prevent and or mitigate the impact of diseases like diabetes or hypertension.
They said they base their teachings on nutrition guidelines and science, but their nonprofit also has a biblical foundation.
The ministry’s name comes from Psalm 78 and the Mauldins are convinced that the “manna from heaven” that the Lord provided to the Israelites was good, nutritious food. The two are members of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, a faith group whose promotion of healthy food habits helps fuel the Mauldins’ mission.
“We believe our body is a temple of the holy spirit,” Laurel Mauldin said.
Other projects for 2021 include more of the ministry’s “Diabetes Undone” classes. The first such class in the new year will be conducted virtually on Jan. 13. A class entitled “Cravings, Weight Gain, Blood Sugar Rollercoaster” will also be offered virtually that day. The latter class, a partnership with Natural Grocers, will focus on teaching participants how nutrient-dense meals support healthy metabolism. They will also learn which nutrient supplements support healthy blood sugar levels and appetite control.
Meanwhile, A Table in the Wilderness purchased a new van through funds donated by individuals and organizations passionate about the ministry’s health-conscious cause. Lamar Mauldin said they obtained the vehicle in summer 2020 and had it wrapped with a graphic design promoting their healthy message. The question “Can God provide a table in the wilderness?” is emblazoned on the van, while the vehicle’s specialty license plate gives the answer: “He can.”
“That has been our driving billboard,” Lamar Mauldin said, laughing.
In 2021, the organization also spread the word about the importance of healthy food habits by participating in various community activities. Members had a booth during the community day activities at the new Homeland grocery store in northeast Oklahoma City, handing out free goodies, cookbooks, children’s cooking kits and DVDs.
The organization also held a free non-dairy cookies and milk distribution with coconut milk supplied through their partnership with Feed the Children. They took their message mobile with “ice cream and education socials” at local grocery stores and various churches like Nichols Hills United Methodist Church and Fifth Street Baptist Church, .
The ministry also held the third Community Plant-based Thanksgiving meal, featuring “ToFurky,” made of plant-based proteins and no meat, plus other plant-based dishes. And they offered virtual Kids Chef classes that encouraged parents to try healthy recipes with their children as they were guided by a chef via video.
The Mauldins said they plan to continue working to get more healthy food options in Oklahoma.
In 2022, they will continue working with Natural Grocers for several of their classes and they hope to connect with other grocery stores as well.
The duo said they have connected with a representative of Homeland in the hopes of getting the grocery chain’s store in northeast Oklahoma City to offer more plant-based and vegan options.
Laurel said even if the healthy food options become more prevalent, she predicts there will still be a need for more education on the benefits of exploring those food options on a regular basis.
A Table in the Wilderness will be around to help with such education efforts.
“Anybody who decides to eat right can follow this way of living,” Lamar Mauldin said.
To learn more
A Table in the Wilderness virtual class “New Year, New You, Diabetes Undone 2022” is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13. Another virtual class, “Cravings, Weight Gain, Blood Sugar Rollercoaster” will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13. For more information or to RSVP for the classes and for more information about A Table in the Wilderness, go to https://www.atableinthewilderness.org/ or the group’s Facebook page.