Since 1993, letter carriers in central and western Oklahoma have collected more than 3.5 million pounds of food to feed the hungry. Last year, we collected more than 916,000 pounds.
On Saturday, help your letter carrier “Stamp Out Hunger” by leaving nonperishable food donations by your mailbox. All donations benefit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and its partner agencies throughout central and western Oklahoma. This effort is part of the 20th annual letter carriers food drive, the largest one-day food drive in America.
More than 675,000 Oklahomans are at risk of hunger every day. Letter carriers see the faces of hunger up close and personal. We’re often among the first to know when a family is struggling to make ends meet. We deliver the past-due and cutoff notices to neighborhoods that have families who are struggling to make ends meet.
The faces of hunger aren’t just the poor and the homeless. The majority of those served by the Regional Food Bank are the working poor, seniors living on fixed incomes and children. Many working parents find themselves living paycheck to paycheck and have to make difficult decisions about whether to pay their bills or put food on the table.
With one in four Oklahoma children going to bed hungry every night, we can’t afford to sit idly by. If children don’t eat, they can’t function cognitively, behaviorally or socially — and that puts the future of our state and country at risk.
The letter carriers food drive is successful because of its simplicity. All we ask is that you put nonperishable food items in a plastic bag and place it by your mailbox by 7 a.m. Saturday. Most needed are canned meats, vegetables and fruits, packaged meals and peanut butter. Your letter carrier will pick up your donations and take them to the post office, where the food will be sorted and delivered to the Regional Food Bank and partner agencies.
Letter carriers are supported in this humanitarian endeavor by the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, the United Way, Campbell’s Soup Company, Valpak, the AFL-CIO, Feeding America and most importantly, the U.S. Postal Service.
Every can donated makes a difference in the lives of those who are struggling with hunger. Thank you for your support in helping us “Stamp Out Hunger” in Oklahoma!
James Bryant and Steve Riggs
Over the past eight months, my responsibilities here at the Regional Food Bank have included scheduling volunteer groups to come and work in our Volunteer Center, and following up with them afterwards. I am constantly surprised at how much the words ‘Thank you’ are used during those conversations and email exchanges. I’m not surprised at how much I say it. I say it a lot, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. I’m surprised at how much the volunteers say it.
Here are some examples:
“Thank you so much for getting our group scheduled. Our team is so excited to come and help!”
“Volunteering last Saturday was great! Everyone in my group was inspired by the act of helping others, and made aware of how truly grateful we are for our living circumstances. Thanks a million!”
“Thank you for the wonderful experience for my daughter and I to share. She had just turned 8 so I was a little concerned she may not be able to do what was planned for us. When her little arms got tired from packing backpacks you found something she COULD do! Thank you!!! She hasn’t stopped talking about all the little kids she helped. WE will definitely be back!”
I’m going to be honest. It’s a little bit awkward for me to receive thanks like this. I mean, think about it. We’ve asked you to give up some of the precious time from your busy schedule to come and perform unpaid manual labor. You’ve agreed to do so, we’ve scheduled an appointment, you’ve followed through with great enthusiasm. That’s amazing. It’s amazing for one person do to it so willingly, but you aren’t one person, are you? We get over 3,000 volunteers each month who donate their time and enthusiasm to our mission of “Fighting Hunger … Feeding Hope.” Volunteers are the driving force behind the work we do here at the Regional Food Bank. Did you know that you saved us over $2 million in manual labor costs last year?
And after all that, you thank me?
We already can’t thank you enough to begin with, but I’m going to keep on trying. This week is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. I hope we appreciate you every week of the year, but I’m going to borrow this platform to say it again:
Thank YOU volunteers. Thank you ever so much. We genuinely couldn’t do this work without you, and I hope you know that.
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2012 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, which was cosponsored by FRAC and Feeding America. This annual conference provides the chance for hundreds of anti-hunger advocates from all corners of the U.S. to convene for the purposes of learning and promoting best practices, hearing stories of both tremendous need and triumph over barriers to food security within our respective communities, and also to share the voice of the hungry and poverty-stricken with our nation’s leaders.
The conference opened with headlining speaker David Shipler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Working Poor: Invisible in America, who spoke about his years spent traveling across the country trying to capture the true nature of what it means to be an American family living the daily fight against poverty. What Shipler primarily found through speaking with thousands of hardworking individuals and families was a common denominator between those who were employed but still facing the constant climb to find a way out of poverty and into the land of enough – and this common denominator nearly always involved hunger and food insecurity. After the demands of rent, utilities, transportation, and even medical costs often necessary to keep one earning a paycheck, food is usually the only semi-optional expense left on the table (certainly no pun intended). When one’s entire budget is subject to the immediacy of what is necessary to sustain a basic functioning of one’s life, how can we expect hardworking Americans in poverty to lift themselves out of their current situation, and further, how are we surprised when we find out that hunger is real in the United States and in our own communities?
This question was perhaps the purpose of the culmination of the week’s events into the final day of the conference, in which advocates met with their members of Congress to discuss the unacceptable problem of hunger and lobby for workable solutions. I had the pleasure of meeting with several of our Congressmen and their staffers, including Congressman Frank Lucas, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. We spoke about what Oklahoma’s food banks have been facing in the past year – a sharp decline in USDA Commodities (53%), rising food insecurity represented through record amounts of Oklahomans having to enroll in SNAP (over 620,000), nearly half of which are children, and our partner agencies that have experienced a 30 – 50 percent increase in the need for emergency food assistance in just the past fiscal year. Most importantly, we discussed the ongoing issue of the Farm Bill, which is the single largest piece of legislation affecting our industry in that it provides dollars that go to vital federal nutrition programs and every type of federal distribution of emergency food assistance. Through speaking with Chairman Lucas, it became clear to me that we are fortunate to have a decision-maker in Congress that seems to truly understand the vast scope of the problem that hunger represents, and that it will not only take supporting emergency assistance programs like SNAP and TEFAP, but that it also requires systemic changes that help support and grow the capacity of our local systems of agriculture.
However, one or even a handful of leaders that understand the problem and its possible solutions are not enough. Chairman Lucas impressed upon me that garnering awareness and support for anti-hunger efforts, and subsequently the passing of a just Farm Bill, will take the work of many constituents keeping in frequent contact with their legislators involved throughout all areas of Congress. If your members aren’t called and don’t receive letters or emails about the reality of hunger in the communities that they represent, they simply can’t know the full scope of the problem, and they certainly can’t devise effective solutions on their own. Regardless of the exhaustion we face over the seemingly increasing divisiveness in the political arena, important issues still need to be heard, and hunger is an inexcusable problem that crosses all party lines. If you’ve never contacted your legislators and would like some information on how to easily navigate the system, please explore the links below. I am also always available to answer any questions related to hunger-related legislation and how we can be effective advocates together!
Contact your Legislator:
Public Policy Manager
Chefs’ Feast is tomorrow! It’s going to be an awesome night of tasting all the food, mingling with Regional Food Bank supporters and most of all supporting the Food for Kids programs. View all the restaurants and menus that will be available: http://www.regionalfoodbank.org/Event-Calendar/Chefs-Feast. One of the chefs that will be there tomorrow is Chef Jason from Rococo Restaurant. Check out his video below, and tell us who you think will win the Foodie Favorite Award?
Chefs’ Feast is right around the corner, and on Thursday, March 29th at 7 p.m. it will be in full swing. All proceeds benefit the Regional Food Bank’s Food for Kids programs. Get your tickets now at http://www.regionalfoodbank.org/Event-Calendar/Chefs-Feast, and enjoy a great night. Watch Christa Carretero with Cooking Girl below and see why she’s donating her time to Chefs’ Feast.
I recently volunteered at a couple of Senior Feeding sites this past month. During my time at the Regional Food Bank I had always hoped to learn more about the program. We hear a lot about great programs like Food for Kids, which has made an extraordinary impact in the lives of young children, but we sometimes forget about senior citizens as well.
Currently, 68 percent of senior adults in Oklahoma are food insecure and 11 percent are experiencing hunger. Services provided through the Regional Food Bank include senior mobile pantries and senior home deliveries. Mobile pantries visit senior resident sites and many of the mobile pantries visit close to the end of the month, when residents are in great need of help. Seniors receive items like fresh fruits and meat. They also receive basic staple items like milk, cereal and pasta. Through the Home Deliveries program, senior citizens who might not be able to access mobile pantries can have their food delivered to them.
I was able to volunteer at two different sites: the Northcliff Garden Retirement Village in Norman and Andrews Center in Oklahoma City. They’re both mobile pantries where residents can receive food assistance. When I arrived at Northcliff Retirement Center, one of our trucks was parked outside and Dennis, a Regional Food Bank driver assigned to the Senior Feeding route, was outside setting up tables and laying out palettes of food for the residents. After staring at a mound of food sprawled across three long tables, I thought it would be wise to ask how the operation ran. After being instructed on the ins-and-outs of distributing food to the seniors I awkwardly ambled my way around the palettes and packed bags with fresh fruits and meats.
The distribution went by quickly; residents were ready with their carts and baskets and quietly made their way through the line. I managed to chat with a couple of people as the line moved along. I spoke to a woman named Patricia, who lived and worked in Norman for most of her life. She had only just moved and was relatively new to the center but was adjusting to her new home. Other residents were chatting to each other, stopping to joke around with site coordinators. It was great to see everyone with energy and enthusiasm and it was something that I noticed when volunteering at the Andrews Center just a few days later. Almost every individual passing through said thank you or had a big smile on their face as they passed through, or joked with the staff before sitting down to converse amongst themselves.
The Food Bank’s Senior Feeding Coordinator has many stories about the people being served through our programs. One story in particular stuck out, about a woman who used to donate to the Food Bank for years. After the passing of her husband 10 years ago she eventually had to stop and now has to rely on donations from the Food Bank. It’s easy to take for granted an act as simple as getting a meal. For most of us we never question when we will eat or where we will get our food. We also forget about the many people who make up the faces of hunger. What comes to mind for many are children who are food insecure, but it’s also important to remember that seniors are among the most vulnerable and often the least remembered. Seniors who have worked hard their whole lives probably never imagined they would end up where they are today. I’m just glad the Regional Food Bank is there to provide them with food so that they have one less thing to worry about.
Generally, when anyone thinks of high school they inevitably dwell on unpleasant memories. Although for me high school wasn’t like an episode of “Party of Five.” I had my moments of angst where I wallowed in self-pity. Most teenagers share these characteristics and have a tendency to overlook the truly important matters in life. For the average student, the issue of hunger is a distant worry and the thought that a fellow student would personally deal with hunger on a daily basis is unthinkable, but for many students, hunger is a reality they face every day.
Fortunately, programs like the W.H.I.R.E. provide hope and resources to students and their families. The program is based out of the Western Heights Public Schools district and provides services, like a food pantry, clothing closet, counseling and DHS benefits; it’s a program started in conjunction with School-based Social Specialists, or the SBSS. It also features the summer feeding program that provides students with meals during the long summer months. The entire resource center is the only one of its kind in the area and largely operates on its own, providing social services to anyone living within the district. When I visited the school pantry at the Western Heights Resource Center, I was really amazed at the diversity of resources offered by the school. I spoke to Angel, Jean and Jason who are the coordinators for the program. On average the school serves almost 30 to 40 families a month and has seen an exponential growth in the number of families needing assistance. The school’s student population is approximately 4,000 and of those students, 85 percent rely on free and reduced price school meals. The pantry itself has been in existence for six months and started after students asked about getting food assistance when visiting the clothing closet. The program’s coordinators also realized that there wasn’t a school pantry available to students and their families on their side of the city, thus, the pantry was born.
Since the summer, word of mouth about the pantry has spread, and clients include non-students who heard about the program and its services. It’s a unique feature of the pantry, the fact that anyone who lives within the district can have access to the services provided by the pantry. Students who utilize the service also have the chance to interact with social workers from the SBSS. Each school within the district is assigned with a social worker and this connection emphasizes the school’s mantra of providing the resources necessary for a child to thrive in his or her environment. Students who need extra help outside of receiving food and clothing get referrals to DHS or organizations like Infant Crisis Services. According to Angel, it’s not uncommon for a student to be the head of a household and serve as the main provider for the family, and they will often ask to be referred to resources outside of the pantry. When I asked about what drives the ethos of the program, Hayden the school coordinator, noted that the pantry serves as the nucleus of the program; students can report to the pantry for food assistance and find other sources of aid if it’s needed. I was really impressed by the W.H.I.R.E.’s ability to serve their community (and admittedly, I was also impressed with his use of the word nucleus and vowed to somehow incorporate the word in my own vernacular).
I asked Angel to give me a brief tour of the facility. The food pantry and clothing closest occupy a small amount of space within what was once the middle school, now converted to be the resource center. As we passed through the pantry, I noticed old chalk boards and other remnants from the school’s past. Angel makes sure to show me the walk-in freezer, now nestled towards the back of the old stage. She proudly picks up some vacuum-sealed frozen meats and mentions the impact having refrigeration and storage for perishable items has had on the pantry. The pantry does provide a wide range of what students and their families can have access to, beyond nonperishable items like dry pastas and canned goods. The freezer is piled high with the frozen product, most of which is donated by the Regional Food Bank. She also mentions that the food bank provides fresh produce for the pantry and shows me another cooler used to store fruits and vegetables.
I asked Angel about the students and their families who came into the pantry for assistance. She told me about one family who recently came in after being evicted from their home and were forced to spend a couple of nights living under a bridge. When the family was able to seek shelter at a nearby motel, they went to the school pantry for assistance. Other stories include that of a student attending Western Heights High School who often visits the pantry to get groceries for his mother and three sisters. He’s the main provider for the family and also lends his time to the pantry, volunteering to help the coordinators with the spare time he has.
The Western Heights School District’s W.H.I.R.E. program has grown substantially since its inception fourteen months ago; from its humble beginnings as a clothing closet to its present state as the district’s primary resource center. And the coordinators show no signs of slowing down their rampant progress. They hope for the program to become a fully operational “one-stop shop” for its clients within the year. The biggest challenge for the coordinators is facing the prospect of the food pantry’s inevitable fate of reaching capacity, when there are too many clients to serve and not enough food to hand out. Judging by what the program has accomplished so far, it’s a challenge they’ll meet head on.
I’ve heard it said many times that no two food banks are exactly the same. This phrase didn’t really seem true until recently. I had the opportunity to attend the Agency Capacity, Programs and Nutrition Learning Conference sponsored by Feeding America in Chicago. The conference was great, the weather was great, and the company was also great! There were about 400 other food bankers from all over the nation looking for the opportunity to network and share great ideas.
It was especially exciting getting to attend various sessions about childhood hunger programs. Programs such as the Backpack Program, Kids Cafe, and School Pantries were heavily discussed. I have been working rather closely with the School Pantry program here at the Regional Food Bank, so any session that discussed some aspect of that program, I was there! So many food banks are attempting to embrace this new program as a way to reach different child populations. I was excited to hear about all the various models of the program. Food banks in the network offer mobile pantries, temporary in-school set up, or permanent in-school set up. Regardless of the model, one thing that remains the same among all of the food banks is that our main goal is to provide hunger relief.
At the conference, there were several break-out sessions that addressed the importance of raising hunger awareness. From Sesame Street educating the younger population, to making changes in Capitol Hill, the issue remains that hunger truly exists and it is our responsibility to make sure everyone is informed about the issue. It was very reassuring knowing that there are so many organizations around the nation seeking to provide assistance to those in need. While each food bank in the Feeding America network may vary in size, capacity, and even the number of child hunger programs they have, we are all advocates for ending hunger.
Childhood Hunger Corps
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
5:07 PM on Friday, January 20th, 20121 Comment
What do you think this is? A place where people come to have fun? Well, yes. Yes, it is! We love to have fun while we work at the Regional Food Bank Volunteer Center. Above are two OU students. They were pumped up to volunteer, and they really enjoyed themselves. I know hunger in Oklahoma is a serious issue, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time while working hard to fight it. Not only did this group have a blast that morning, but they set a new record for packing for the Food for Kids Backpack Program. They worked hard and played hard, and that’s the idea we try to put across to our volunteers. We try to provide an environment where they can have a good time and feel productive.
And don’t tell me you don’t like to sing. I know by now you have probably heard we have karaoke once a month for Rock ’n Box on Thursday nights. And I know most people are too shy to get up and sing in front of strangers, but you never know until you try. You probably like to sing while you’re driving around in your car with the windows rolled up, listening to your favorite song or maybe sometimes in the shower. Well just picture yourself doing the same thing when you grab that microphone. Ask someone who has sung karaoke a few times and they’ll tell you, “It feels so liberating; it can be addictive!” So that’s another way you can have fun and help fight hunger. The more fun you have while volunteering makes the whole experience better for everyone. More people will want to volunteer to pack and sort food, which means more food will distributed to Oklahomans in need!
I have always been fascinated by our global society and the people in it and that’s why I chose to pursue a degree in International Studies from the University of Oklahoma. Now a junior, I have had the opportunity to learn about many different issues that affect us locally and internationally. From human rights to ending poverty, I have cultivated a yearning to make a difference in the world by solving problems that seem simple enough, but actually require complex answers. This yearning is what led me to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
To put it simply, what the Regional Food Bank does works. From the Food for Kids programs to the Senior Feeding programs, the Regional Food Bank works on the local level with many different groups of people to provide the aid and the education that are needed to eradicate hunger in our state. Reaching close to 100,000 Oklahomans every week, the success of the Food Bank and its programs has truly impacted the state and its citizens while providing the programming and the education to be effective in the long-term.
This all ties into why I, an International Studies Major, wanted to be a marketing intern at the Regional Food Bank. Because on an international scale, solving things like hunger and providing aid are difficult and often ineffective in the long-term; and, unfortunately, the efforts to help do not always reach the people that need it the most. My goals while I am here are to learn how to effectively promote the programs and the work of the Regional Food Bank while also learning ways to apply and promote their programs on an international scale. If we hope to solve hunger on an international scale, we need to start by promoting, helping, and learning from organizations, like the Regional Food Bank, that have effectively reached, educated, and impacted our own communities.
I also hope to periodically link to interesting articles and programs that are effectively working to end world hunger. Essentially, informing readers of news and programs similar to those at the Regional Food Bank but on an international level. In honor of my first blog post, I would like to link to Freerice.com. Free Rice is sponsored by the World Food Programme and is a fun way to help alleviate world hunger by answering trivia questions. For each question answered right, ten grains of rice are donated to the World Food Programme. Sounds easy right? With each right answer, the questions get harder. Trust me, it’s addicting. Go to www.freerice.com, answer some questions, and then comment on this post with how many grains of rice you donated to the World Food Programme and your longest streak of correct questions. So far, Free Rice has donated almost 92 billion grains of rice, how many more will you contribute?