I first heard about the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma when I was in National Honors Society in high school. Every once and awhile, I would sign up to volunteer on a Saturday morning to help give back and, honestly, to earn NHS points. Still, I remember having fun with my friends as we packed boxes. Fast forward to the present day and here I am working as a marketing intern for the organization.
Ever since college, I knew that I wanted to work in the nonprofit industry. I wanted to feel like I helped people on a daily basis, even if I was just sitting in an office all day. I’ve always believed that everyone plays an important role in any organization—from the interns all the way to the CEO. People tend to forget this fact, but here at the Food Bank we embrace it.
This experience has taught me so much about the mission of the Food Bank and myself. I have seen up close how many sacks of food are sent out per day for our Summer Feeding Program, as well as the many people who come to our partner agencies for meals, like at the Grace Rescue Mission. By seeing the people we serve, I am able to put faces to our cause, which makes working here more meaningful.
By the end of my work days, I feel like I have helped people. Yes, I’m in the office all day, but like I said before that doesn’t mean I don’t help people. Some of us do our best work in the office, while others do their best work by helping stuff the backpacks for our Backpack Program, which last year helped 13,500 children that are chronically hungry. And others do their best work by getting out and volunteering. Without our volunteers, the organization wouldn’t be what it is today.
The Regional Food Bank has exceeded by expectations because every employee and volunteer works together to achieve our one goal: to stop hunger in Oklahoma.
I’m looking forward to the many experiences coming my way.
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.
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.
Magic really is happening at Macy’s right now. In the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself there. The first time because it was Clinique Bonus time, which in my world means I have to go. The second time because I have a friend in town that wanted to go shopping. I was happily surprised during both visits to Macy’s that I was asked to buy a Shop for A Cause Shopping Pass by employees. Both employees knew all about the Shop for a Cause Pass and that the money to buy the pass was being donated to the Regional Food Bank to help feed hungry Oklahomans.
The Shop for a Cause Pass can be purchased at any Macy’s for $5. For your donation, you will receive an all-day savings pass (for 10% – 20% off) and 25% off a single-item purchase.
I was so excited that employees were so knowledgeable about the Pass and our cause. Keep it up Macy’s! I’ve always loved shopping there, but now you’ve really made me love you even more. Make sure you stop by Macy’s on Saturday, October 16 to buy that item you’ve been eyeing for awhile. I know I will.
My schedule finally developed an opening, so off to the Food Bank I went to experience a morning of packing food boxes. And yes, it was that easy! When I arrived, Jamie Treadaway had us sign in and then we went to the packing floor.
I was totally impressed with the organization and the cheerful attitude of the staff and team leaders. I was assigned to work with group of teenagers from a Catholic group in Texas. Let me tell you, they came to work! There was no standing around, but at the same time, we all settled into a nice rhythm of work. The pallets of food quickly turned into boxes of mixed food to be distributed to those in need. Our team leaders sang the praises of the group for the hard work and diligence of getting the job done in great fashion.
The experience was outstanding and it gave me a feeling of real accomplishment knowing that each can or package of food we touched was going to make some family’s living situation better. What a great service to the 500,000 people that face hunger in Oklahoma EACH day! Thanks to the staff for a wonderful morning at the Food Bank! I’ll be back soon and I’m bringing friends with me this time!
You’d think that, because I spend about 60 hours a week at the Food Bank already, that I wouldn’t want to spend my “off time” anywhere near the place, right? As it so happened, I scheduled our entire department to spend a few hours in the Volunteer Center helping assemble emergency family boxes recently without realizing the date was going to fall right in the middle of my vacation week.
Granted, I could have played the vacation card, but every time I thought about it, I kept hearing this voice in my head say, “hunger doesn’t take a vacation.” And, so I did what thousands of others do every year – I donated some of my time to volunteer at the Food Bank.
I have to tell you, it was probably one of the most rewarding days I’ve had in a while. Seriously. Not only did I get to do some physical labor for a change (rather than working at my computer all day), I also met some of the most wonderful people! There was a hard working group from Chapel Hill Methodist Church who shared their secret for staying young: keep busy by volunteering! There were youth groups, senior groups, families and individuals who read about the need for volunteers in the newspaper and just showed up to help.
There were volunteers as young as 8 and as old as 80. Some couldn’t lift, but they could work an assembly line; some couldn’t stand, but they could put labels on boxes; some couldn’t sit still, but they could run around and pick up cardboard boxes and tear them down for recycling! In short, there was something for everyone and everyone served a purpose. It was like a well-oiled machine.
Joe, Liz, Jackie, Jamie, Dan and all the rest of the crew that run the Volunteer Center every day deserve a standing O. Or at least, a standing “Oh My!” It’s amazing the amount of work that goes into preparing, coordinating, training and overseeing volunteers from all walks of life, all ages and all skill levels. Somehow, they seem to pull it off and, in the end, we all went home tired, but feeling like we had truly made a difference in someone’s life. It doesn’t get much better than that.
As for me – I may make this part of my vacation every year.
In an effort to help meet the increased demand for food, the Inasmuch Foundation presented the Food Bank with a generous $500,000 emergency assistance grant to help feed hungry Oklahomans.
Bob Ross, president and CEO of Inasmuch Foundation, said he hopes this grant will help create some stability for our most disadvantaged citizens. Since their first gift in December 1992, the Inasmuch Foundation has committed more than $2 million to the cause.
This grant couldn’t have come at a better time. We are distributing more food than any other time in the history of the org; we distributed more than three million pounds of food in April – which is a 29 percent increase over the same time a year ago.
Thank you so much to the Inasmuch Foundation for your continued commitment to fighting hunger in Oklahoma!
Donations are still coming in from post offices, but so far the total collected during the Letter Carriers Food Drive is 785,000 pounds of food! Big thank you to all the letter carriers, event sponsors, volunteers and donors who contributed to the success of the food drive!