Clients line up outside Iron Gate in downtown Tulsa. Most are homeless, and usually 218 of them are allowed into the kitchen to eat together in what Iron Gate Executive Director Carrie Vesely Henderson calls a very “high-touch” experience.

This is what it looks like since the COVID-19 outbreak: They’ve had to switch to grab-and-go meals. Most eat sitting on the sidewalk outside Tulsa’s largest standalone soup kitchen and grocery pantry as a heavy rain turns to hail. Iron Gate has seen a 40 percent increase in food pantry traffic. Employees have seen volunteers and even donors in the line for groceries.

Most social service agencies in Tulsa have had to adjust their operations. The Community Food Bank of eastern Oklahoma has seen increased demand due to the skyrocketing unemployment rate. Hunger Free Oklahoma saw another problem: food industry workers unemployed, adding to the crisis. They started Tulsa Kitchens Unite, which pays local restaurants to make meals to give to those in need.

A homeless encampment below the levee on the Arkansas River has been growing. Shelters are limiting contact with people experiencing homelessness, and more are being forced to sleep outside. Mental Health Association Oklahoma continues to do outreach, giving food, toiletries and COVID-19 information to the people living there. Homeless Outreach and Rapid Response Clinical Coordinator Jessica Kelly says, “We’re going to see an influx of people experiencing homelessness” due to the outbreak’s resulting financial crisis. 

What follows is a multimedia essay of what it looks like for those who serve and receive amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

‘Living on the Levee’


YouTube video


‘By Any Means Necessary’


YouTube video


‘A Whole New Wave of People’


YouTube video


Mike Simons is a staff photographer at the Tulsa World. He worked on this project while furloughed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He graduated from University of Central Oklahoma with a degree in journalism/photographic arts. He is married to Brandi and they have two daughters, Sonnie and Sarah. Find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @mikesimonsphoto or his website

How to Help

Contact information for agencies mentioned in this video and photo essay:

Iron Gate
501 W. Archer St.
Tulsa, OK 74103
Phone: (918) 879-1702

Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
1304 N. Kenosh Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74106
Phone: (918) 585-2800
Fax: (918) 585-2861

Hunger Free Oklahoma
907 S Detroit Ave, Suite 600
Tulsa, OK 74120
Phone: (918) 591-2491

Mental Health Association
5330 East 31st St., Suite 1000
Tulsa, OK 74135
Phone: (918) 585-1213

The Coronavirus Storytelling Project is a collaboration between the Oklahoma-based Inasmuch Foundation, the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Watch to help state journalists who have been furloughed or displaced as well as those in struggling community news organizations. The Inasmuch Foundation has pledged $50,000 to launch the project and provide five $500 grants to those accepted into the project each week for the next four months. Apply here.

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