The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma operates two food trucks throughout the year, providing fresh healthy meals to its neighbors facing hunger. In the summer months, children become the priority, and the food bank sends its trucks to low-income communities that have a large population of young children.
In Tulsa, the largest city in the food bank’s service area, there is a two-week gap between the end of school and the day when federal summer feeding sites open. During this period each food truck will distribute food at one breakfast site and two very high need lunch spots – providing 450 meals to each day. Once federal summer feeding sites do open, the food truck travels more widely – visiting several low-income housing communities to provide lunch to children and families. The mobile model allows the meals to go to high-need areas, even if there is not a facility willing to open its doors for summer feeding. It also allows us to partner with organizations that are willing to provide space, but unable to pick up meals or supervise the site. Last year, Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma operated 12 sites and provided 11,283 meals through this program, and this year, it’s expanding to it 16 sites with the addition of four regional libraries.
Sixty-two percent of Oklahoma children receive free or reduced-cost breakfast or lunch while in school. During the summer break those meals are lost. Food-insecurity impacts nearly 1 in 4 Oklahoma children – that’s 1 in 4 children who don’t always know where they will get their next meal. Summer is a particularly difficult time for families who are already struggling to put food on the table. For families facing hunger, the summer months mean increased food and utility costs as they care for children at home. The average family’s grocery bill increases over $300 each month when school is out, and simply put, many families don’t have the resources to cover these costs. To help struggling families make ends meet during the summer, The Culinary Center at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma really steps up during this critical time to provide them with the food they need to get through the summer.
The mobile food truck distributes well-balanced, nutritious meals that include protein, vegetables, fruit and grains. Chef Jeff, the chef responsible for curating summer meals, takes special care to create dishes that are healthy but also accessible and appealing to children in need. Wraps and sandwiches are prepared to be served cold, and are stored in coolers to travel from site to site, typically serving for 45 minutes at each location.
In addition to its mobile food truck, the Culinary Center at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma also helps ensure preschoolers and their families receive fresh summer produce and bakery items through sponsoring the Free Family Farmer’s Markets at Headstart and Educare sites. This program helps provide the youngest children the food banks serves with the nutritious food they need to develop healthy eating habits that lead to a healthy life.
No child should have to spend their summers hungry or worrying about their next meal. The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and its culinary team work hard during the summer months to make this possible for the children it serves, and help ensure that when school starts again, children can return healthy, happy and ready to learn.
*Eileen Bradshaw is the CEO of The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.