This year Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma has faced unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a normal year, they provide about 463,000 meals a week. This spring and summer saw the weekly meals count climb toward a million.
Friday, Sept. 4, marks the beginning of the 14th annual Restaurant Week, which runs through Sept. 13. It's an opportunity for Tulsans to visit 40 participating local restaurants and enjoy a special menu with a portion of the proceeds going to the nonprofit.
TulsaPeople checked in with CEO Lori Long to see how Community Food Bank is operating six months into the pandemic and just how important this year's Restaurant Week is for the organization that provides meals to Oklahomans in 24 counties.
When I spoke with you in early April, you were 10 days on the job and facing unprecedented challenges. At the time, the food bank was providing somewhere around 750,000 meals a week and you were facing a half million budget shortfall.
How has it gone since we last spoke? How many meals a week did you get up and how does that compare to where are you now?
I am now entering my sixth month here at the Food Bank and our work continues to be more important than ever. We have distributed 17.3 million pounds of food since March, which is the equivalent of more than 868,000 meals a week. For the four-month period from March to June, our distribution was up 35% over the same period last year. Forty percent of our total distribution for the year was provided between March and June. While we don’t yet have our official numbers for July and August, the trend appears to continue with some of our pantries reporting up to a 70 percent increase in what they provide. Many of their clients are showing up to receive services for the first time.
The community response to this crisis has been incredibly generous and has provided us the means to respond decisively. That said, we know this will be a long-term response and we are planning accordingly. After the Great Recession, there was a lag between economic recovery and food security. In fact, it was 2018 before Oklahoma’s food insecurity rate approached pre-recession levels. For that reason, the Food Bank is prepared to operate at elevated levels for the foreseeable future. We will steward the resources trusted to us with care and plan for the marathon, not the sprint.
Restaurant Week is an impactful annual fundraising opportunity for Community Food Bank. It's never been as important a time to support both the organization and local restaurants as it is this year due to the effects of pandemic. A new aspect of this year's event is the availability of to-go and family meals at many of the restaurants (List below).
What does it mean to you to see those restaurants and the folks who will be ordering the meals continue to support the organization and its cause?
This year we initially had no idea if Restaurant Week would happen or in what form. Along with TulsaPeople, we reached out to some of our long-term Restaurant Week partners and it became clear that they wanted to carry on this Tulsa tradition. That really means the world to us. First, it shows the restaurant’s belief in the Food Bank and our efforts. Second, I think it is a sign of confidence in our community and how important it is to start gaining a sense of normalcy.
We love how creative the restaurants are this year, and how they implemented options to best serve their customers while supporting the mission of the Food Bank at the same time. I also think it’s important to remind patrons that all contributions through Restaurant Week are matched by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, up to $25,000.
I already have dinner reservations at Sisserou's, and I'm planning on visiting a at least a couple more places throughout the week. Are there any restaurants you have your sights set on?
There are so many amazing options to choose from, you could literally go to a different restaurant each day for every meal and still not get to all of them! It really is hard for me to select, as I love them all and are so thankful for their support of Restaurant Week and The Food Bank.
I will tell you that I plan to take advantage of each aspect available throughout the week, brunch with my husband, lunch with a colleague, cocktails with girlfriends, and my favorite new addition as a working family with two school-aged children, my husband Rob and I are excited to try some of the Family Meal options!
Participating Restaurants offering to-go and/or family meals
- Baxter's Interurban Grill
- Bin 35 Bistro
- Bird & Bottle
- The Bistro at Seville
- Blue Dome Market
- Bramble Breakfast & Bar - Broken Arrow
- Bramble Breakfast & Bar - Pearl District
- Bramble Breakfast & Bar - Riverwalk
- Celebrity Restaurant
- The Chalkboard
- Daily Grill
- Fassler Hall
- Foolish Things Bar and Biscuit
- Foolish Things High Dive
- In the Raw Brookside
- In the Raw on the Hill
- McNellie's Downtown
- McNellie's Group Catering
- McNellie's South City
- Michael V's Restaurant
- Polo Grill
- Queenie's Café
- Sisserou's Restaurant
- The Tavern
- The Vault
- Yokozuna Blue Dome
- Yokozuna on Yale