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.
Making a difference in my community has been something I strive to accomplish every day. Random acts of kindnesscreate a positive flow of energy to the people around me. A quote that has helped inspire me throughout my ongoing journey says, “You must BE the change you wish to see in the world” – Ghandi. I believe that realizing there is a need is the first step in addressing a problem. I try to become the light of positivity, providing others with the encouragement that they might need. One person can make a huge difference in the lives of others by doing some of the simplest things.
What about ways you can touch the lives of others during your daily routines? I have provided a small list of things that we all can start with today!
- Smile. It will astound you in the amount of those who will smile back.
- Let someone ahead of you in the checkout line, even if they have more than 10 items.
- Compliment a stranger.
- Look at the person speaking to you instead of the cell phone. The text will wait, but that connection of one-to-one could be missed.
- Open the door for someone
I have enjoyed sharing a few thoughts with you today. Ideas we all know, but due to the hectic lives we live, sometimes forget. Remember, it all starts with a smile!
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.
Check out David’s first vlog!
There are a many reasons that I count myself as one of the luckiest girls in the world to be here at the Regional Food Bank every day. Don’t worry, I’m not about to write out a list of them. I’m just going to mention one that’s really close to the top of that list.
If you don’t know what Urban Harvest is, I encourage you to click that link and read up on it. It’s awesome. I have a desk job with a 2.5 acre garden in the backyard. That’s pretty sweet.
I was just now back there, in the garden, strolling through our new ‘Tomato Forest.’ This field has been planted with a variety of tomato plants that produce only small tomatoes – the best size for small fingers, small mouths, and small tummies. There are 32 different varieties with suitably varying names. Morning Sun. Riesenstraube. Isis Candy. Wapsipinicon Peach. Hssiao His Hung Shih.
I’m pretty personally invested in the successful growth of these tomatoes. I’ve spent more than one morning digging my fingers into the soil that offers nourishment and support to their roots. Last time, I was surrounded by a couple dozen middle school students who’d come to lend a hand. After several hours of ensuring that the beds of our Tomato Forest were free of weeds, I’d imagine that I wasn’t the only one in the group who hoped that our work wasn’t wasted.
And soon, when the tomatoes have grown, our forest will be ready to host another kind of youth group. You see, we like to call this field of tomato plants a forest, but really, it’s a classroom. It’s a place where low-income children from urban neighborhoods will get to see for themselves where their food comes from – what a tomato is and what it takes to bring it into this world. They’ll get to learn about natural gardening, the life-cycle, nutrition. And, of course, they’ll get to experience the delight of eating a naturally grown tomato moments after picking it off of the plant. How did you like the Wapsipinicon Peach? You should really give the Isis Candy a try.
But the vision we have for the exciting future of our tomato forest can’t come to fruition without the dedicated service of the volunteer groups that are keeping the weeds pulled today. This is true for all of the ‘classrooms’ we have in Urban Harvest – our indoor strawberry garden, our fruit orchard, all of the raised vegetable beds – our volunteers keep all of them going for us. And I hope that as they do that, they’re able to share our vision. I hope that the teenager who’s kneeling in the dirt clearing bind weed from the base of a tomato plant today can feel a connection with the child who will soon be able to visit that same tomato plant to sample his or her first fresh tomato. Then it’s a classroom for both of them.
It can be for you, too. Here, I’ll give you the link again.
Come and give us a hand. It’ll give you a chance to see what I mean when I say that I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world to be here every day.
I love the Thunder! My husband and I moved to Oklahoma City one year before the Thunder came to Oklahoma City and while I had grown up a Dallas Mavericks fan my allegiance quickly changed after my first Thunder game. During the playoffs, I put a Thunder flag on my car and stayed up late into the night to cheer on my team. The playoff games are so unique, because businesses sponsor shirts for all of the fans at the game to wear. My favorite playoff shirt this season had the phrase “Team is Community.” It summed up what I feel like this team has done for our great state.
When I worked on the Food Bank’s school pantry program, I would visit schools and discuss the program with staff. In every school, I noticed a Thunder flag, Thunder foam finger or Thunder poster in the office or principal’s office. The presence of that logo made me feel at home and connected to the school.
Honestly, I have gotten that same “team is community” feel through my work at the Food Bank. I feel a special connection with the 53 counties that we serve. I have met partner agencies, donors, school officials in Lawton, Ada, Weatherford, Enid, Ponca City, Red Rock, Guthrie and more. Every person is passionate about the role they play in fighting hunger in their community. In my first visit to Paoli to discuss the school pantry program, I intended to meet with school officials and to tour the location of the school pantry. The pantry worked in partnership with the local Methodist church, so SIX community volunteers also showed up to meet with me! Several of them took time off of work so they could learn about the pantry program but also explain to me the impact that the food would have on their community. I was blown away by their desire to help hungry kids.
Last week, I walked into a small business and smiled when I saw a big Feeding Hope and Letter Carriers food drive poster on the wall. I thanked them for serving as a collection site. The business owner quickly pointed out that she hadn’t collected very much. This didn’t matter to me. She had brought awareness to one of our biggest community food drives and she had taken the time to become an ally and advocate of the food bank and the hungry people that we serve.
The Food Bank is a big team that relies on so many different partners. I challenge each of you to become a part of our team through volunteering, donating or advocating. Now, all I need is a big foam Food Bank finger to wave around!
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
Special Projects Coordinator
Quibids, Homeland partner to provide grocery shopping spree for two local families
Streamer- and balloon-clad shopping carts sped the aisles of a south Oklahoma City grocery store, May 10, as Quibids and Homeland partnered to make two families’ days a little brighter, and their grocery bills a little lighter.
As part of the Quibids Gives Back program, Quibids employee volunteers showed up at Homeland eager and ready to help two very deserving families on their $500 shopping sprees. And the fun didn’t stop there. Once the families made their way through the checkout lane, both families were presented an additional $250 Homeland gift card.
I’m honestly not sure who had a better time that day. Several Quibids volunteers played ball up and down the Homeland aisles with one of the family’s children and the others tallied, lifted, loaded and even carried groceries to the families’ cars!
I’m so grateful to have gotten to witness such an exciting event. It’s not always easy to decide where to spend your volunteer time or charitable dollars, but hunger is such a wide-spread need that has such a simple solution. If you haven’t been before, consider volunteering at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. It’s such an easy place to make a difference and see the impact you can make in our community.
The charitable support of the people and businesses in Oklahoma City always amazes me, and it makes me proud to call this city my home. I see that willingness to help time and again from companies big and small. And thanks to that same generosity from Quibids and Homeland on May 10, I know that at least two Oklahoma families with young children won’t have to face the pain of hunger tonight.
A Member of the
Regional Food Bank Development Committee