Oklahoma is fourth hungriest state in nation
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010
9/13/10 at 5:16 AM
Area agencies are seeing more and more people seeking food assistance as Oklahoma moves up to the fourth hungriest in the nation.
The state ranked eighth this time last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mindy Tiner, executive director of Neighbors Along the Line, said the agency has experienced a 37 percent increase from two years ago. Now, the agency is serving about 155 households a month, which is about 420 people needing food.
"It's not slowing down at all," she said.
Neighbors Along the Line offers a food pantry and other services to people in west Tulsa and Sand Springs.
"We're still seeing our traditional clients, but we're also seeing folks we haven't seen in the past," Tiner said. "Times are still tough for people. People are still losing their jobs or have jobs that don't pay as much as they did before."
Downtown's Iron Gate reports a 30 percent increase of people it serves every day in its soup kitchen and in those asking for grocery assistance.
The agency made headlines in July when it had to suspend its food box distribution when 2,000 people showed up for free boxes of food - many who were ineligible - because of false information sent through group e-mails and on the social networking website Facebook. People came from as far away as Watonga for the 30-pound boxes funded by federal stimulus money.
"They were willing to stand in line for hours on the hottest days of the year," Executive Director Connie Cronley said. "It was proof to us of the incredible need for food assistance. It showed us the depth of the financial problems the people of our community are wrestling with."
Tanya Moore, social services coordinator at Iron Gate, said the type of person experiencing hunger is changing "from the dirty little girl stereotype to the family next door."
"The white picket fence doesn't mean it is perfect, and we in Oklahoma have a tendency to believe that if it looks all right then it must be fine," Moore said.
"The face of hunger needs to be every child that attends school and every adult who works. The face is ever changing and no longer fits into a stereotype."
At the same time the state ranks as one of the most hungry, it is also one of the most obese.
Oklahoma ranks sixth in a national report on the fattest states.
Cheap food that is usually high in fat and sugar is one of the most common reasons cited for this paradox.
"Low-income people are forced to make economic - not health - choices," Cronley said.
Cronley said people working multiple jobs have little time or energy for exercise. Also, safe parks, walking and bike paths, and gyms are not always available in low-income areas.
"Poor food and inadequate exercise - exacerbated by chronic financial stress - are the perfect storm for obesity and health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Lack of dental care, medical care and medication contribute to the unhealthy cycle," Cronley said.
School-lunch choices are a problem for children, Moore said.
"Children in food-insecure households often only really have a full meal at lunch during school. Fatty burgers and french fries do not help the situation," she said.
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma has seen an increase of 40 percent in the number of people seeking food assistance. It provides food to 450 partner programs in 24 counties of Eastern Oklahoma and reaches about 60,000 people a week.
Because of the state's struggles with hunger, Gov. Brad Henry and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett have proclaimed September as Hunger Action Month.
"Our goal for Hunger Action Month is to educate our citizens about the problem of hunger right here in our own backyard and show them some of the many ways they can take action to end hunger, not just in September, but every month," said Sara Waggoner, executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.
The food bank distributed an all-time high amount of food from July 2009 to June 2010 - 13.5 million pounds, said food bank spokeswoman Cindy Stevens.
"I know a lot of people think about hunger and think about it happening in a different country. The whole purpose of Hunger Action Month is to make people realize that there is hunger going on right here in our backyard. In a country and state as well off as we are, we should be able to do something about that," Stevens said.
Hunger strikes Oklahoma
Source: Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
- 44 percent of Oklahoma children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.
- 44 percent of clients seeking emergency food assistance are children under 18.
- 48 percent of clients using emergency food programs report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities.
- 11.4 percent of residents in eastern Oklahoma have used an emergency food program at least once in the last year.
- 16.2 percent of Oklahomans live in poverty.
Original Print Headline: More going hungry
Mike Averill 581-8489
Nancy Sendejas-Hacker (left) and Joe Green collect items for a client at the Neighbors Along the Line food pantry. The pantry offers free groceries and household items for qualifying people in the west Tulsa and Sand Springs area. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Toni Kringlen of Sand Springs (left) and her boyfriend, Jeremy Byrd, load up groceries from the Neighbors Along the Line food pantry while Joe Green, a pantry volunteer, holds onto a shopping cart. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Boxed food lines a shelf as volunteer Nancy Sendejas-Hacker inspects the food inventory at the Neighbors Along the Line. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World