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.
Waking up at the crack of dawn and heading off to work last week I noticed two things:
The air was noticeably cooler, giving me hope that the sun was finally taking a break from melting the population of Oklahoma, like ants under a magnifying glass.
- It was the crack of dawn.
My intention of waking up at an absurd hour (absurd for me at least) was to meet one of our drivers and go on a ride along; try to see what a driver does on a typical day. I was given the chance to hang around with Mike, a driver who’s been around for about a year and half.
Before the trip he checked the truck for any problems. The drivers have to know if there’s something wrong before they embark on their journey. I imagine it would be rather terrifying having a sprocket (is that a technical car term?) come loose during a delivery, especially if you’re a rural driver. Mike is responsible for an urban route, so he usually circles the metro area. On this day he was travelling to two partner agencies to make deliveries and to an Akin’s store to pick up product. Before I left for the trip I was asked by one of the warehouse guys if I brought a helmet – I’m pretty certain he was joking.
The first partner agency we visited was downtown, the First United Methodist Church. Most of us tend to think when a driver’s making a delivery he shows up, drops off the items, and leaves for the next destination. This wasn’t true in Mike’s case. After hauling the food out of the truck on pallet jacks, he took the time to help the staff at the agency transfer the food into the facility and helped them figure out where to put everything! Drivers deliver a variety of product – including “dry product” like cereal, crackers, etc. that are loaded onto the trucks the day before. Then the next day, frozen foods, vegetables and bread are added to the load. It usually takes a metro driver about 10 to 15 minutes to unload the donations because those deliveries carry a smaller load and are made more frequently. A rural driver, on the other hand, may spend up to 2 to 3 hours unloading product at one site because they make much larger deliveries in larger trucks on a less frequent basis. Metro drivers may make a delivery to an agency once a week or every other week and rural drivers may deliver only once or twice a month.
What’s interesting for the drivers, because they have been doing this for so long, is that many of them have a pretty good idea about what each agency needs. They know when an agency on their route is going to need extra food to help feed the growing number of families who come to the agency. This ability to attune to what the partner agencies need is derived from the hundreds of trips the drivers make. On average, the drivers will make 1,000 deliveries in a month. According to Mike, he accrues on average about 1,000 to 1,500 miles a month and that’s only in the metro. Rural drivers naturally accumulate a staggering amount of miles. Drivers travel as far out as the panhandle to make their deliveries. A drop off at an agency in Guymon could take up a whole day.
During the trip, I noticed Mike was able to maneuver the truck in the most precarious situations. Driving through narrow alleyways, parallel parking, making sharp turns and not rolling over the curb was no problem for him. I can’t even do those things in my own car. On the way back Mike talked about what happens when the driver returns after making a pick up from one of our retail donor locations. After picking up donations the driver will head back to the Food Bank, back up to the loading dock, unload the product and take it to the back of the warehouse where donations can be sorted into large bins. Donations can be both food and non-food items. The bins are labeled with large signs designating a bin to hold items like dry product, canned goods, jars, hygiene products. After everything is sorted and boxed by volunteers, it is put into our inventory where a partner agency can order it and Mike can deliver it. It’s kind of a nice way to end things, everything comes full circle.
At the end of the trip, when I entered the warehouse and walked back to my office, I stopped to look at the towering shelves stocked full of items. It is amazing to think that all of that product is shipped out every day and feeds thousands of hungry Oklahomans but I suppose with drivers like Mike it’s an everyday reality. And after all I learned, I guess it wasn’t so bad waking up that early after all.
2:21 PM on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010No Comments
Do you eat because you’re hungry? For me, that’s a great goal! I eat because I’m bored, because I’m happy, because there is food in front of me. I find that when I’m busy and there isn’t food around me I can stick to my healthy diet, no problem. If I slow down or if I’m around the table with family and friends I tend to keep eating, long after I’m full.
So, the question is: what to do about it? There are so many things that can be done to derail a craving. Drink a glass of water, take a walk, call a friend, take a bubble bath, play with your kids, anything but go to the kitchen. If you’re sitting around the table and you don’t want to leave, clear the table of food. If it’s not your house, move the plate away from you.
The point is, your body will tell you when it needs food, when it does, eat. When it’s not your body but something totally different, like your emotions, take a walk. I’m trying to incorporate these ideas myself, and if I can’t do it today…tomorrow is another day!
To keep yourself on track, join the Pound For Pound Challenge at www.pfpchallenge.com. For every pound you pledge to lose, The Biggest Loser, Feeding America, General Mills, 24 Hour Fitness, Subway will donate 14 cents to your local food bank (that’s us!).
- By Jennifer Arlan, Development Manager
Bean and Turkey Chili
Poultry for Protein
Turkey breast is a lean protein that supplies amino acids that give structure to the body in skin, cell membranes and muscles.
Prep Time:20 min
Start to Finish:50 min
Makes: 7 servings (1 cup each)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 lb lean ground turkey or chicken
2 medium jalapeño chiles, seeded, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cans (14.5 oz each) Muir Glen® organic diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (15 to 16 oz) pinto beans, drained, rinsed
1 cup water
1 cup Cascadian Farm® frozen organic sweet corn (from 10-oz bag)
2 tablespoons ancho chile pepper powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, if desired
1. In 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add turkey; cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink. Add jalapeño chiles and garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Stir in tomatoes, beans, water, corn, chile pepper powder, cumin and oregano. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; simmer uncovered 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until flavors are blended. Sprinkle individual servings with cilantro.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about food; professionally and personally. Professionally, my focus is concentrated on teaching people how to eat healthy food that still tastes good and helping them make sensible consumer decisions at the grocery store. Personally, my interest is in historical foodways, traditional preparation methods and how what we eat has shaped our culture. The recipe I’m making this month with the children at our Kids Cafe afterschool programs rolls all of these subjects, plus a little food science and human nutrition, into a very neat (please pardon my pun) ball.
You: “What are you talking about?”
Me: “Recipe first, science and history second.”
Peanut Buttery Oat Balls
1 large jar of Crunchy Peanut Butter (40oz)
½ box Whole Grain Breakfast Cereal Flakes, such as Total or All-Bran (16oz)
3 cups Rolled Oats
1 cup Raisins
1 cup Dried Plums (Prunes), chopped
1 cup Sunflower Seed Kernels
¼ cup Honey
Pour ½ box of cereal onto a cookie sheet and crush with a rolling pin or your hands.
(Should be well smashed up, but not a fine powder.)
Combine all other ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix until stiff, but not dry.
Roll into small balls (½ the size of golf balls), and roll in crushed cereal.
Place on wax paper covered cookie sheet and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Makes 30 servings of two balls each, with 342 kcal/serving. Retail price using store brand ingredients: $0.32/serving.
You: “Where is he going with this?”
Your Mom: “Honey, I haven’t the faintest clue.”
Amino Acids. They’re these little molecules that build proteins – our bodies make most of them for us, but there are nine that we only get from food (phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, and lysine – you don’t need to remember that, there’s no test). Lots of foods are missing some of these, so combining foods lacking in opposing aminos make complete proteins. One of the best ways to eat complete proteins is combining whole grains and legumes. Why? Because they’re cheap, tasty and healthy. Beans and corn tortillas. Lentils and brown rice. Peanut butter and whole wheat bread…or oats.
Oats (even rolled oats) are whole grain. Yup. When you’re eating your bowl of morning oatmeal, you’re consuming one of the tastiest whole grains on the grocery aisle. So adding peanut butter to whole oats? Cheap, healthy, tasty and a complete protein with a full complement of amino acids!
You: “How is he going to tie this into food history?”
Your Dad: “Huh? Oh yeah, it looks good.”
Farming and agriculture were key components of our development as civilizations. About 10,000 years ago we stopped wandering around looking for berries and started planting seeds. We were able to grow more food than we needed at any given time, allowing us to store some of it for times of cold or drought. Preventing mass starvation was a crucial step in societies flourishing. Food surpluses also afforded people time to think about things like wheels, buildings, science, art, music and the internet (much later, obviously). In what is now central Mexico, rows of corn were staggered with rows of beans, and their combined eating (after soaking the corn in wood ash – a fascinating conversation for a different time) led to one of the most advanced cultures in human history. Several hundred generations of those lovely complete amino acid chains stoking our muscles and brain structures helped us to build cities, sail oceans and commit our exploits to written words.
You: “How is he going to tie this all together?”
Me: “Like this:”
Eating well on a budget seems incredibly daunting to a lot of people, but once you know where we’ve come from culinarily, a clear path forward starts to emerge. Starting with the basics, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Lean Proteins and Whole Grains; nearly infinite combinations open up – the majority of them healthy and affordable. Peanut Buttery Oat Balls are an iceberg’s tip; keep your RSS readers tuned to this station for more from me on food, history, science and how we can all be better people.
- By Mason Weaver, Nutrition Educator & Americorps Member
Because of your generosity, in Fiscal Year 2009, the Regional Food Bank:
- Distributed more than 28.5 million pounds of food to those in need – a 15% increase over the previous year.
- Served nearly 8,000 chronically hungry elementary school children in 263 schools in 38 counties through our Food 4 Kids backpack program.
- Expanded the Summer Feeding program to 45 sites, including rural Oklahoma.
- Provided a safe haven and an afternoon snack or meal for more than 850 children through our Kids Cafe sites.
- Increased the Senior Feeding program to 30 sites.
- Delivered food throughout the Regional Food Bank’s service area via the Regional Delivery System, making approximately 1,000 deliveries per month to nearly 350 delivery sites in urban and rural Oklahoma at no cost to our partner agencies.
- Initiated the Walmart Supercenter and Neighborhood Market Product Recovery Program in late January, with 53 authorized Walmart locations – resulting in more than two million pounds of food collected and distributed.
- Completed fundraising and construction of our Building Expansion – Volunteer Center, adding 36,600 square feet of additional freezer, dry storage and volunteer work space.
- Welcomed thousands of volunteers who contributed over 47,000 hours of service – saving the Regional Food Bank more than $900,000 in labor costs.
- Provided enough food to feed more than 63,600 hungry Oklahomans each week.
- Kept our administrative and fundraising costs below 5%.