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
It has been almost five years and rereading these blogs during my time helping after Katrina caused some deep seated emotions to surface that had been lying dormant. We had a staff luncheon Friday and one of the things I said was: “Do not take your family members, friends and others you care about for granted because it could all be gone in a minute.”
Thousands of our Louisiana neighbors lost their homes, many lost their lives and most were displaced throughout the country where they were strangers. Most separated from family and their neighborhoods, they survived and endured the painful ordeal they faced day to day – the struggle to find something to hold on to or that was familiar.
The other side of Katrina displayed the spirit and desire to survive under almost impossible odds and it was transfixed on television sets across the world. Katrina produced some of the worst human conditions possible and raw emotions while demonstrating the resilience and character that keeps the belief that the American dream is alive.
It was indeed an honor to play a small part in the enormous relief effort in providing such basic needs – water and food. To all the volunteers that helped, all the food companies that donated so much and to everyone that contributed their funds – thank you for caring and thank you for sharing.
2:11 PM on Monday, July 12th, 2010No Comments
“I’m checking you in Connie,” and I looked over as my supervisor Natalie was logging me in and updating my status on Facebook/Foursquare. I cackled to myself knowing that my Facebook status would inform my friends that I was attending a meeting with the OKC Thunder; jealous reactions would surely follow.
Entering the OKC Thunder offices I had no idea what to expect, so naturally I made up a scenario in my mind. Perhaps I would see a board room populated by serious faces and even more serious suits. Or maybe the meeting would be held on a basketball court at the 3-point line with Rumble reading off the agenda, assuming he even speaks at all. Blame it on my overactive imagination for making up such ridiculous ideas.
So on to the meatier stuff, the actual meeting. We were there to sort out the details for upcoming events for food drives and volunteer events, which at a time like this, is much needed given the fact that the Regional Food Bank is now sorting and packing an additional 4.2 million pounds of food to be shipped out by the end of September. The Food Bank values its partnerships and it is due to the organization’s ability to cultivate relationships with other businesses that has allowed it to survive for 30 years. Indeed, no man is an island could be our internal organizational mantra, if we even had such a thing.
Community partnerships are something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Even I didn’t realize how much the Food Bank relied on its connections with other community developers until during the meeting. Actually I didn’t even realize the Thunder had a community relations department, hence the need for me to hope that our meeting would be lead by a man in a bison outfit.
After the meeting, I realized how much working with the community leaders like the Thunder can help bring attention to the issue of hunger – an issue that’s often invisible. It’s important to have community leaders who are passionate and supportive of a cause. They can communicate to a potentially new audience and help foster the passion for cause that’s so fundamental to an organization like the Food Bank.
Even though we never set foot on the 3-point line, and Rumble didn’t show up to the meeting, it was a great experience. Getting the chance to go behind the scenes and see how everything works beyond what we see on the court is a rare opportunity, and it’s been one of the many benefits I’ve enjoyed during my internship so far. Most importantly, I was able to meet another group of hard working individuals who were dedicated to the fight against hunger.
I’ve just finished my first week at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma as the new Marketing Intern, and I have to admit my time so far has been a blur. Besides the introductions and playing the name game with my new co-workers, my first day centered on orientation and familiarizing myself with the daily ins and outs of the organization. Those unfamiliar with the Food Bank would likely assume the orientation was brief since many people imagine the Food Bank to be a tiny soup kitchen situated in a forgotten old building. They would, however, be wrong; a tour of the Food Bank shows the immensity of the organization and its ability to serve thousands of Oklahomans facing hunger issues each day. By the end of a tour, one wonders how such an operation is run. There’s an intricate network of people who work daily to keep the Food Bank running and most people don’t see it or even know it’s there. Early into my orientation one thing became clear: despite all the different tasks that had to be completed day after day, everyone was insanely passionate about their job.
Most of the departments were unknown to me, but despite being unfamiliar to everything happening behind the scenes, I do have a history with the Food Bank. It goes back to my teenage, pimply and awkward years – only just getting used to wearing contacts instead of my unfashionable glasses. Most of those awkward years were spent with my nose crammed into books or sitting in classrooms for hours during the school day only to return again for another beating, absorbing as much information as possible for exams. Yes, I spent most of my time nerding away as much as possible and to solidify my uncoolness, I joined the after school organization, Key Club. Admittedly, I joined not only to be with my friends, but also because I lacked the coordination and enthusiasm required for the cheerleading squad. On many weekends, instead of sleeping in or waking up to watch MTV, I drove myself to the Food Bank to volunteer for Key Club. My friends and I became very familiar with all the sights (skyscraper tall shelves filled with millions of pounds of food) and smells (to this day I can’t quite describe it) of the warehouse. I remember we would compete to see who could pack the most food the quickest or build the tallest stack of food. Perhaps they were infantile games, but they are part of my fondest memories of high school.
I volunteered here in the last year of high school and it’s odd that now, at the end of yet another milestone, the end of my college career, I find myself here yet again. This can only confirm what is probably a silly belief I hold, that all things come in circles, we always end up in the same place where we began. Not everything is the same, most of my friends are gone now, finding jobs, finding the perfect grad school, or just finding themselves. And now that I find myself here again I will hopefully create new memories, meeting new people and getting the chance to make the most of my experience at a place that does so much for everyone involved. The Food Bank has changed a little. The programs have expanded as well as the building itself and although the volunteer center is bigger, it’s still the same place – an organization dedicated to fulfilling its mission and promise to the community.
- By Connnie Lam, Marketing Intern
During the season finale of the television show The Biggest Loser, General Mills pledged that one can of Progresso Soup or one can of Green Giant vegetables will be donated to Feeding America, for every pound pledged to the Pound For Pound Challenge. Nationwide, Food Banks will receive nearly 5.9 million cans of product.
Today, General Mills donated a truckload of Green Giant Sweet Peas and Cut Green Beans to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, which will help provide 27,620 meals to hungry Oklahomans this summer!!
Additionally, for every pound pledged at pfpchallenge.com, the Pound For Pound Challenge will donate 14 cents to Feeding America, who will then distribute the donations to Food Banks across the country, including the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. So far, Oklahomans have pledged to lose nearly 50,500 pounds in the Pound for Pound Challenge. The Pound For Pound Challenge, sponsored by The Biggest Loser, Feeding America, General Mills, Subway, 24 Hour Fitness and The Kroger Co., is designed to help deliver millions of pounds of groceries to local food banks across the U.S.
You can still pledge to lose weight until June 30, which in turn will raise donations for the Regional Food Bank.
1:57 PM on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010No Comments
In response to a call for donations by the 2010 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball, Tyson Foods delivered more than 31,000 pounds of much-needed protein to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma today. The donation will provide 23,875 meals to the hungry in 53 central and western counties.
Since 2000, Tyson Foods has been a leader in the fight against hunger. The company is actively engaged in food-donation events and fund-raising activities to benefit those in need. The protein given by Tyson today brings the company’s total in-kind donations since 2000 to more than 75 million pounds. This milestone equates to more than 296 million meals donated to food banks and agencies serving local communities around the country. Last year alone, Tyson donated nearly eight million pounds of protein to Feeding America. For more information on Tyson’s fight against hunger, visit hungerrelief.tyson.com/.
This morning, the Food Bank’s Executive Director Rodney Bivens, Tyson Foods representative John Ward, and Oklahoma Speaker of the House Chris Benge came together for the arrival of Tyson truck.
We need you tomorrow! We have 217 pallets of product to go out to needy families next week. Open volunteering from 9-12 and 1-4. We are located at 3355 S Purdue near the airport. You can just show up!
If you aren’t available tomorrow, we hope you’ll come out volunteer sometime this summer. We need your help now more than ever! The Regional Food Bank will distribute an additional 3.8 million pounds of food and 697,867 pounds of household products in upcoming summer months. We have extended volunteering hours to accommodate!
Contact me 600-3154 if you have any questions. We hope to see you soon!
12:58 PM on Friday, March 26th, 20101 Comment
In a thought-provoking new series called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC, Chef Jamie Oliver, a best-selling author and 2010 TED Prize winner, invites us to change the way we eat. The show follows Oliver’s efforts in Huntington, West Virginia – a community recently singled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the “unhealthiest cities in America.” Oliver hopes to help the community move away from fast food and unhealthy snacks toward freshly cooked food and better nutrition – in their homes, workplaces, and most importantly, schools!
The show’s upcoming premiere has me thinking of my work here at the Regional Food Bank as I advocate for increased student participation in school nutrition programs. For the most part, schools in Oklahoma serve meals based on an established meal pattern: menus are planned and food is ordered according to USDA nutritional guidelines. Despite this, pizza, chicken nuggets and biscuits and gravy remain the most popular items in the cafeteria. These choices are not completely unhealthy – but couldn’t our schools do better?
Having more participation in the programs would be great, since only 45% of the students in Oklahoma participate in the National School Lunch Program, and even fewer in the National School Breakfast Program and Summer Food Service Program. These programs are especially important for students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, as sometimes these are the only meals a child receives.
Food Revolution is loosely based on Oliver’s experiences in the U.K., where he employed grassroots efforts to improve the school lunch program. Oliver was able to completely overhaul the system to include better, more nutritious, food. In this series, Oliver will show how he tries to help Huntington as an example for the rest of the country. It’s definitely worth watching!
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution debuts today, March 26 (8:00-9:00 p.m., CST) on ABC.
-By Suma Ananthaswamy, AmeriCorps Member/Child Nutrition Advocacy