Yet, even with all those credentials and a productive work history, she has a hard time making ends meet. At 75, Graham works part-time at Gold’s Gym Express, but that income plus her Social Security check still isn’t enough to pay rent and put food on the table.
It’s her reality, but she doesn’t complain. Instead, Graham is thankful for the blessings in her life, which include a trip every other month to The Urban Mission, 3737 N. Portland Ave., where she receives several weeks worth of food.
Graham is among the thousands of Oklahoma City residents who benefit from the mission’s food pantry, a service that receives assistance from Governor Mary Fallin’s annual Feeding Oklahoma Food Drive. It launched earlier this month and continues through Oct. 31.
The food Graham receives from The Urban Mission is “absolutely necessary.”
“If I just had Social Security, I’m not sure what I’d do. It’s not enough. There are a lot of situations where people are walking a thin line,” she said.
Most people who receive aid from The Urban Mission and other relief organizations are in situations similar to Graham’s, said Peggy Garrett, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“They’re employed but can’t make it on the minimum wage they earn,” she said. “These are not people playing a game. Are you going to stand in a line in the hot sun for three hours if it (the need) is not genuine? One major life event could send a lot of these people into a tailspin.”
In many instances, employees have been reduced from full-time to parttime work, causing a major reduction in a family’s income. In other cases, recent cuts in food stamp funding have brought more people to food banks like The Urban Mission.
“There are some senior citizens who get only $16 a month in food stamps, and that’s not going to get you very far,” Garrett said. “So, we’re here to fill in that gap.”
In one case, a mother lost her job because she was absent from work two days while tending to her son, who suffered through an emergency appendectomy.
“Those are the people who benefit from the governor’s food drive,” Garrett said. “These are the people we are able to help.”
Typically, The Urban Mission provides food for 30 to 50 families each day. On its busiest day, the nonprofit served 105 families.
“That was last month, so things are not improving,” Garrett said in reference to the country’s high unemployment rate and general economic conditions.
Unfortunately, hunger in Oklahoma is nothing new. The state consistently ranks among the top 10 hungriest states as more than 675,000 residents struggle to eat every day.
Rodney Bivens, executive director of the Regional Food Bank, said the majority of people suffering from hunger are children, senior citizens and the working poor.
“We’ve seen the face of hunger in our schools and, of all places, senior living centers,” he said. “We’re committed to fighting hunger.”
Citizens can donate food and money or volunteer their time during the food drive or any other time of the year.
“Every dollar donated provides five meals for Oklahomans who are struggling to keep food on the table during the difficult winter months,” Bivens said.
Oklahoma also ranks high in the number of obese residents, which has prompted food banks to give each family a significant amount of fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We want people to eat properly,” Fallin said during a Sept. 23 press conference at the Regional Food Bank in OKC.
Nonperishable food items can be donated at all BancFirst locations, Bob Moore dealerships, metro area Love’s Travel Stops, select AT&T locations, the Regional Food Bank and their partner agencies. For a complete list of participating businesses or to make a monetary gift, visit www.feedoklahoma.org.
Bivens stressed that the most-needed items include canned meat, canned vegetables, canned fruits, canned tuna, peanut butter, rice and beans.