‘Fighting Hunger … Feeding Hope’
The statistics are staggering: Oklahoma is one of the hungriest states in the nation: one in six Oklahomans may not know where their next meal is coming from. One in four children suffer from hunger, and Oklahoma is ranked 51st (behind the District of Columbia) in summer feeding. While these numbers can seem overwhelming, an organization exists close by that provides programs to bring healthy food to every family’s table. I spoke with Cassie Gilman, chief advancement officer of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, to learn more about the programs available.
» What are some details of your organization?
With a mission of “Fighting Hunger … Feeding Hope,” the Regional Food Bank was founded in 1980 by Rodney Bivens. In its first year, the food bank gave out 280,000 pounds of food, which is now distributed every two days. The nonprofit provides enough food to feed more than 136,000 people every week, with administrative and fundraising costs of only 4 percent. Since its inception, the food bank has distributed nearly 560 million meals. The nonprofit serves 53 central and western Oklahoma counties with a strong network of 1,300 community-based partner agencies.
» Can you provide a brief description of some of your programs and services?
Over the past five years, there has been a 77 percent increase in our food for kids’ programs. To help the one in four children in Oklahoma with inconsistent access to food, the Childhood Hunger Programs – Food for Kids, has three programs.
- The Backpack Program provides children with a backpack full of kid-friendly and nutritious food on Friday for weekends and school holidays. Last school year, 24,371 students in 500 schools participated.
- The School Pantry Program provides chronically hungry middle and high school students with food. Last year, the School Pantry Program served 5,770 students in 167 middle and high schools.
- Kids Café is an afterschool program providing food, mentoring, tutoring and other activities.
Programs also are available for the one in 10 seniors with inconsistent access to fresh food.
- The Senior Mobile Pantry Program provides monthly distribution of healthy food. Each recipient receives a sack of nonperishable food items, produce, refrigerated items and bread.
- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides commodity foods to low-income seniors.
As we work to close the food gap, we recognize food alone will not end hunger. To address the root cause of hunger, we have worked to scale our Food & Resource model and partner with community organizations providing resources to help break the cycle of poverty.
- Fresh Food Mobile Markets provide fruits and vegetables to clients in areas with low access.
- Healthy Living Pantry Boxes contain shelf-stable food selected in partnership with registered dietitians for clients living with chronic diseases.
- Fresh Rx staff train health care providers to screen for food insecurity and connect patients to local, state and federal resources.
- Farm to Food Bank has farmers volunteer to plant and donate edible cover crops.
- Urban Harvest is the educational gardening program that grows fresh fruits and vegetables on-site at the Regional Food Bank and provides gardening support to partner agencies and charitable projects throughout the state.
» What unique needs does your organization face?
Like most nonprofit organizations, we couldn’t do our work without volunteers. We also couldn’t do our work without support from private donors. The clients we serve often rely on support from federal programs. Without these, our nonprofit wouldn’t be able to meet the need to feed food insecure Oklahomans.
» What can people in the community do to help?
Every dollar donated provides four nourishing meals for Oklahomans with inconsistent access to healthy food.
After the holidays, we traditionally see a drop in volunteers and donations, although the need continues. Volunteers are needed year-round. Every day, volunteers pack enough food to fill a semi-truck. Volunteer tasks include bagging and boxing food products, assembling Food for Kids sacks of food, preparing fresh food for distribution in Hope’s Kitchen, working in our Urban Harvest program, processing protein donations in the Protein Processing Center and assisting at mobile food distributions.
The Regional Food Bank encourages individual volunteers and both small- and large-group volunteers.