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A vital resource

The new food resource center at the City Rescue Mission is more than a traditional food pantry.

Dawn Watson January 16th, 2013

For some Oklahomans, having a job doesn’t mean the end of hunger.

Impact Hunger Food Resource Center
Credit: Mark Hancock

Being one of the working poor sometimes means having to choose between car repairs or medicine and buying food. At the Impact Hunger Food Resource Center at City Rescue Mission, no one should have to make that choice, said Tom Jones, rescue mission president.

“Part of our mission is to reach the homeless and the near homeless with services … in hopes that they’ll get back on their feet,” he said.

The rescue mission received a $100,000 grant from Impact Oklahoma to turn an old warehouse into a grocery store and, since September, has served about 6,700 households, according to food bank records. Organizers estimate that the Impact Hunger Food Resource Center, 831 W. California, will give out more than 1.2 million meals in a year.

One of three the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma recently opened through partnerships with organizations, the food resource center replaces more traditional food pantries with a grocery store environment. The change means more people receive food and get just what they need.

That’s vital in a state where about 675,000 people are struggling at any time to get food for their families, said Rodney Bivens, food bank executive director. The success at the rescue mission is mirrored in the other two locations, Bivens said. The Urban Mission, 3737 N. Portland, opened a food resource center in June, while Loaves and Fishes opened in Enid in October. The number served has doubled to about 700 households a month at the Urban Mission, which already had a food pantry.

“The number of additional people they have been able to reach is tremendous,” Bivens said. “It’s actually been a higher level than what we anticipated.”

All centers have a wider variety of food, and families can take home what they need, which cuts down on waste and gets fresher, healthier food to families.

“In many cases, it’s introducing families to fruits and vegetables that they may not otherwise have access to,” Bivens said.

Food bank employees are working now to open eight more locations and would like to have 40 to 50 in the 53 counties of the food bank’s coverage area in the next several years.

Centers are open extended hours, unlike many food pantries, some of which are only open one day a week for a few hours. The food resource center at the rescue mission is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“One of the challenges the food bank has is getting the food to the people,” Jones said. “If you’re hungry on Tuesday and you’re working, you’re out of luck.”

Jones said rescue mission clients help maintain extended hours by staffing the store.

“The clients here, it just gives them so much dignity because they can give back to the community. They still have something to give,” Jones said.

In addition, volunteers like Jeff Ramsdell, a 32-year-old Chesapeake Energy employee, help out. He said his favorite part is interacting with the people and helping them find more than just groceries.

“The truth is, people just want to feel loved, and I think if you do that, people respond,” Ramsdell said. “They kind of find themselves at the bottom of the barrel and just need some hope.”

Anyone on food stamps qualifies to use the center. Others can bring a note on letterhead from churches, local businesses or agencies stating the family needs assistance, according to Jones.

“Many times, those folks are so thankful that when they get back on their feet, they’re bringing donations,” Jones said. “To me, that’s a healthy community.”

Dining patrons at Downtown Restaurant Week, which begins Sunday, can do their part to contribute to the Impact Hunger Food Resource Center. For every comment card someone fills out at the end of his or her meal, $1 will be donated to the facility.

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