One by one, I watched the students walk into the dimly lit room and one by one I watched them exit with an armful of snacks and smiles on their faces. The snack closet volunteer revealed that this school, located about a half hour outside of Oklahoma City, is one of many schools across the state that have a food pantry available for their children. For many of these children the only complete meal they eat is at school from the free lunch program making the weekends difficult and often uncertain when it comes to food. Teachers identify students that come to school hungry and they are given items from the food pantry before they are sent home over the weekend.
This was my first exposure to the rural Oklahoma school system and it seemed a world away from Oklahoma City, the state’s capital where I lived for over half of my life. It presented me with two new understandings about the state: these are the farms that people picture when they think of Oklahoma and poverty is a very real problem even for the very young.
As I played through in my mind the cycle of poverty and hunger considered normal for these children, I found that one piece of the cycle was still a little unclear: a source. Perusing past the snack closet, “The Regional Food Bank” was posted across each box. I looked it up. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma website boasted:
- They are the largest non-profit food bank in Oklahoma,
- They have over twelve hundred feeding programs across the state from homeless shelters, soup kitchens, to school food pantries much like the one I was at.
Everything started making more sense and ironically our local was set to volunteer at the food bank a few Saturdays later. The murky waters of this food supply was being unearthed and quickly brought into the light.
Early on a Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed clad in my INCGiving shirt and closed-toed shoes ready for the unknown. The information we received in our emails said we’d be “bagging and boxing food.” Upon arriving, I checked in our local congregation for our shift and geared up for our station. After a demonstration from one of the coordinators we took off sorting crates of donations, boxing, weighing, labelling.
Our group was definitely the loudest of the hundreds of other volunteers and groups there that Saturday. How you ask? How can you be loud in an assembly line of bagging and boxing? Our station was filled with laughter, chatter and smiles. The spirit of brotherly love shining through the early Saturday morning fatigue and the local congregation united for a cause that was close to the community, close to home, and close to my heart.
The reoccurring theme throughout the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the various programs they lead is “Fighting Hunger…Feeding Hope.” I have heard about the Regional Food Bank, I have seen their posters, I have even volunteered previously; but this year I had the opportunity to see the direct line of who these efforts are helping. It’s more than a tray of cookies or a box of cereal. It really is hope. In that same hope I have a new-found trust in something I cannot see. It is with that hope united with faith and love that we continue to reach out, an endeavor that is always guided by the Church Administration. I can only hope to be an instrument in good works to shine as a light anywhere, from the “big” city buzz to even the slower-paced regions like here in rural Oklahoma.
Contributed by Sharron Vaughn, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma