Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 Oklahomans have been furloughed to date, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. This, in turn, increases the need for food assistance.
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma has seen the demand increase from 463,000 meals a week to nearly 1 million across 24 counties. It provides food to numerous local organizations that are helping feed Tulsans as inventory dwindles and vital fundraising efforts get pushed aside. If you need food, visit okfoodbank.org and click “Get Help.”
Hunger Free Oklahoma is one of those organizations on the receiving end. The nonprofit launched Tulsa Kitchens Unite, which utilizes Tulsa restaurants to prepare 30,000 meals a week handed out three times a week at distribution sites across the metro. The operation allows restaurants to stay open and keep people employed and out of the food lines.
Iron Gate is another partner organization of the food bank seeing increased demand. The nonprofit continues providing hundreds of to-go meals and delivering food at a temporary shelter for those experiencing homelessness.
All three organizations participated in Q&As that can be read at TulsaPeople.com. Below are excerpts on how the agencies have adapted to feed more Tulsans and how you can help.
Food Bank CEO Lori Long, who started the job in April, on the challenges of maintaining inventory to meet growing needs:
All of the food banks across the country are having to purchase, so what we’re starting to see is quite a big backlog … We just heard some of our most needed products, that we’re looking at a six- to eight-week backlog on product inventory. That’s a major concern. We’re really just trying to do the best we can utilizing as many vendors as we can to be able to get what we need to fulfill our orders and what our pantries need, as well.
The food bank has cages set up on the dock from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily to receive food donations. Another way to help is cash donations at okfoodbank.org. That’s always very, very important.
I will tell you that just in the first four to six weeks that we’ve been responding at this point, we have already seen our budget impacted by about half a million dollars.
Chris Bernard is Hunger Free Oklahoma’s CEO. While the Tulsa Kitchens Unite program is up and running, they need volunteers, cash donations and transport vehicles.
Our program is proposed to run 12 weeks, but it is only funded for about nine and a half. It costs almost $150,000 a week to run the program at full scale. So one need is financial contributions, and you can go to hungerfreeok.org/tulsakitchensunite and donate there … This effort takes around 70 volunteers a day to operate, and we have safety precautions in place …
We also need transport partners. So if there’s a company that has a box truck that they’re not using or a large cargo van — at full scale this project will probably take between seven and 12 transport vehicles operating all at the same time. So that would be a huge resource to us if somebody out there has it.
Iron Gate CEO Carrie Vesely Henderson says cash donations are needed to continue providing hot meals and groceries through its drive-thru grocery pantry.
The real difference is in our pantry program. The demand is up about 40% over this time last year. That’s a huge jump for us, and we’re grateful that we’ve been able to meet the need. Unfortunately, this may just be the beginning for those experiencing food insecurity, as it takes a while for the economy to rebound. We are committed to being there for those people now and in the future.