This summer, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma employee Lavell White has been delivering delicious food to children at the Edward L. Gaylord Downtown YMCA through the Summer Feeding Program. White enlisted in the United States Army and has begun training for boot camp. Yesterday, he said saying goodbye to his dreadlocks and let the Y’s summer day campers give him a haircut to help him begin his new journey.
Lavell, we wish you well in your future with the Army!
When I think of a food pantry, or the food closet, that staple of community engagement for so many churches and neighborhood organizations, I think of bags or boxes handed to a long line of hardy folks who have braved the cold or the heat to get the help they need to feed their families. Many are what are often tagged as the working poor – men and women who make barely enough to pay the rent, or to cover the cost of getting to and from a minimum-wage job, but not enough to buy a bag of apples or a fresh, cold watermelon to brighten up a hot summer day and feed their hungry kids.
The Food Bank provides food to hundreds of food pantries in communities across central and western Oklahoma. These pantries are run by folks as hard-working and resourceful as the families they serve. They wrote the book on being frugal and turning a little into a lot. For most pantries, handing out boxes or bags of food is fast and efficient and clients are thankful. But pantry personnel began to ask themselves what would happen if families could choose the food they want and need, rather than receive a pre-packed box. They realized the boxes might contain things already in their clients’ kitchens at home, or food they couldn’t eat because of medically restricted diets. The good food they worked so hard to provide might be wasted!
Many of the Food Bank’s partner food pantries are now blazing a new trail – setting up their pantries, big or small, so that clients can shop for the food they take home. Not only is food no longer wasted, but clients are leaving with huge smiles, expressing their thanks for the opportunity to shop in a dignified, respectful atmosphere.
One of the first folks to come through such a pantry was a man in his early forties. He had multiple health problems and could no longer work; he’d applied for disability but that was still pending approval and he was the sole caregiver for his mother, who was also ill. He had been to food pantries in the past and said he was grateful for their help – but the truth was – most of the items he received he was unable to eat due to his health condition. He was amazed that a volunteer took the time to help him read the labels and find foods that were low in sodium and fit his restricted diet.
Another pantry recently reported clients’ excitement that they could choose food their kids would eat, or food they knew how to cook! One client was especially happy. Because she didn’t have teeth, she couldn’t always eat what was given to her. Now she was thrilled choose the food that was easy for her to eat. A pantry reported that a client got back out of her car after loading her groceries, threw her arms around the neck of the pantry director and hugged her, telling her what a wonderful place this pantry was and how much it meant to be able to pick out her own groceries.
It’s rare when something happens that is a win for everyone involved. A pantry that provides the clients with a choice of food is one of those rare opportunities. Less food is wasted because folks don’t take what they know they won’t eat, and clients experience the positive effect on their self-esteem when given the freedom to choose.
Vice President of Community Initiatives
As a Marketing Intern for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit one of our Kids Cafe programs at the Skyline Urban Mission. I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent with the children and staff during my visit.
I learned about the techniques they use in educating children on how to have a healthy lifestyle. Areas of focus in achieving this goal are: identifying healthy food choices, learning the food pyramid and hands-on preparation of meals and snacks. This program also provides additional support for children through mentoring, tutoring and one-on-one relationships. Kids Cafe stimulates character development, social interactions, proper manners and conflict resolution for the children. They use innovative methods to actively involve the children through arts and crafts, outdoor activities and cognitive development. The best part about programs like these is the experiences that the children have, in addition to the relationships developed.
When an evaluation was done on the effectiveness of the Kids Cafe program, it revealed many positive results. Both parents and children were asked how the program benefited them. The results were as follows:
- 91 percent of the children said to have learned more about healthy foods
- 93 percent of the parents witnessed behavioral improvements in their children
- 80 percent of the children had grade improvements
- 98 percent said they met adults or older kids that respected them through the program
Through my own experience at the Skyline Urban Mission, and the results of the children involved, I believe this program is truly remarkable and beneficial for the children. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to experience the Kids Cafe first hand.
Making a difference in my community has been something I strive to accomplish every day. Random acts of kindnesscreate a positive flow of energy to the people around me. A quote that has helped inspire me throughout my ongoing journey says, “You must BE the change you wish to see in the world” – Ghandi. I believe that realizing there is a need is the first step in addressing a problem. I try to become the light of positivity, providing others with the encouragement that they might need. One person can make a huge difference in the lives of others by doing some of the simplest things.
What about ways you can touch the lives of others during your daily routines? I have provided a small list of things that we all can start with today!
- Smile. It will astound you in the amount of those who will smile back.
- Let someone ahead of you in the checkout line, even if they have more than 10 items.
- Compliment a stranger.
- Look at the person speaking to you instead of the cell phone. The text will wait, but that connection of one-to-one could be missed.
- Open the door for someone
I have enjoyed sharing a few thoughts with you today. Ideas we all know, but due to the hectic lives we live, sometimes forget. Remember, it all starts with a smile!
We just completed our first full day of sessions, and it was great! There have already been some great takeaways for the Volunteer Department, and I’ve been able to network with vendors and other Food Bank staff members from across the nation.
I’m speaking tomorrow on engaging the next generation of volunteers, so be looking for another update soon. I’m also working on a video with great footage from Chicago to pass along. Thanks for following our progress at the 2012 Mobilizing the Public Learning Conference hosted by Feeding America.
Check out David’s first vlog!