Oklahoma has significantly higher food insecurity than the national average. Currently, the state ranks 10th in the nation for food insecurity, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.
“There are more than 656,000 Oklahomans struggling with food insecurity every day,” she said. “To put it in perspective, that’s enough people to fill Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City more than 36 times. Although related, poverty and food insecurity aren’t the same. Poverty is only one of the many factors associated with food insecurity. About 31 percent of food insecure households are above 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which makes them not eligible for federal nutrition assistance.”
Most of those struggling with hunger are the working poor, older adults and children. In fact, one in six adults, along with one in six senior citizens, and one in four children struggle with hunger. It does not help that Oklahoma has the fourth highest share of low-paying jobs in the nation.
“What makes these situations even more difficult is 72 percent of these households have to choose between food and utilities. About 66 percent of them must choose between food and medical care,” she said. “More than half must choose between food and housing and just over 25 percent choose between food and education. Of the older citizens suffering from hunger, 19 percent are taking care of a grandchild in the home.”
Fortunately for the citizens of Oklahoma, there are ways of getting assistance to help combat food insecurity. There are two state food banks – the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Both of these food banks combined work with more than 1,650 agencies and schools to provide food for over 160,000 people each week and more than 57 million meals each year to Oklahomans struggling with hunger. They do so through food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and after-school programs.
Children benefit from these food banks through programs such as Food for Kids Backpack Program, Kids Café, Summer Feeding Program, School Pantry Program and Free Family Farmers Market.
“There are about 436,000 children in Oklahoma who participate in the national free and reduced-price school lunch program,” Hermann said. “For many children, the meals they eat at school are the only meals they get each day. Thankfully there are programs available to help provide these children with food on the weekends and during the summer months when schools are closed.”
Programs geared toward older adults include Senior Home Deliveries, Senior Mobile Pantries, Commodity Supplemental Food Program and Senior Servings.
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma offers fresh food programs including Urban Harvest and Fresh Food Mobile Market. The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma was the first in the country to have an on-site culinary center with a professional kitchen where they operate Meals for Perishable Foods, Culinary Trade Program and cooking classes.
“There are many ways in which Oklahomans can help those who are food insecure, including hosting a food/fund drive, donating food/funds to your local food pantry and advocating,” Hermann said. “With spring around the corner, plant an extra row in your vegetable garden and donate the extra produce to a food pantry. You can even volunteer at the food pantry in your area. In fact, in fiscal year 2015, nearly 34,000 volunteers donated just over 130,000 hours of service to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. These volunteers saved $2.7 million in labor cost.”
More information about the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma can be found on their respective websites at regionalfoodbank.org and okfoodbank.org.
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