by Bob Nigh
Managing Editor

Baptist Building staff became more educated about the status of the hungry in Oklahoma, and then collectively rose to the occasion and did something about it when they gathered for staff development day at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma on Oct. 11.

Moving from the confines of the Baptist Building as is the norm for “At Home Day,” as the day’s activities are called, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma executives, specialists and ministry staff each worked two shifts as volunteers at the food bank, 3355 S. Perdue, in southwest Oklahoma City. The BGCO volunteers put their time to good use, boxing up a total of 36,476 pounds of food, enough to provide 28,058 equivalent meals, according to food bank employees.

Foodstuffs packaged were intended to benefit some of the 90,000 different recipients of the food bank’s assistance each week. The Baptist Building crew filled a total of 1,105 cases.

The trip to the food bank made a lasting impression on several of the BGCO participants.

“I was not sure what to expect from the day, not really knowing anything about the food bank and being really ignorant of the facts of hunger in our state,” said Mary Bauer, executive assistant to senior assistant executive director Ron Fannin. “I was really shocked to learn that Oklahoma is the fifth-hungriest state in the nation. That to me is appalling.

“I had a great time working alongside people I don’t usually see from day to day.  It was hard work, but no one complained.  We were all just grateful to be able to help in some small way.

“Personally, I doubt that I will ever look at a meal the same way again. My prayers of blessing for my food have taken on a new meaning.”

Wynn Anne Hook, executive assistant in the CP and Associational Relations office, said, “I was very impressed with the facilities and the organization of the resources; however, I was more impressed with the commitment of those who worked there. As (our tour guide) was telling about the distribution of food to the elderly, she became very emotional and showed us her heart for those receiving the food. It was a blessing to be there and pray for the boxes as we packed them. My grandsons and I will be going back to volunteer again.”

“This is something we need to do every year,” said Keith Burkhart, family & men’s ministries specialist. “It was a great cause! Great team work! Great fun!”

Andy Harrison, Falls Creek program director and student ministries specialist, said the food bank could serve as a great tool for teaching students about hunger in Oklahoma.

“The Regional Food Bank was probably the most well run, volunteer friendly and efficiently organized charitable organization for which I have had the pleasure of serving,” he commented. “I felt like we really helped them during our volunteer time, and they were extremely informative in providing a facility tour as well, so we could get the big picture.  I think every youth group in Oklahoma ought to volunteer with this organization to help their students understand what is required to feed those who are hungry in Oklahoma.”

John Strappazon, collegiate ministries specialist, could see an opportunity for older students as well from his experience.

“What an amazing place and opportunity for ministry,” he said. “I had a rewarding experience stocking the (produce) line and learning about how serious  hunger is  in Oklahoma. It was encouraging to see what is being done to combat hunger as well as what  I/BCM can do. The food bank folks are serious about their mission, but they’re fun too.”

Elizabeth R. Little, ministry assistant to Marta Caceres, director of the Robert Haskins School of Leadership, spent two hours breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling as cans, boxes and packages of food were placed into larger boxes.

“It was totally worth the cuts on my hands knowing that people who need it have something in return,” she said.

“I absolutely loved helping out and getting the opportunity to help people who are less fortunate. It also was a great way to spread the word and love of Christ. I do admire what you do and and just knowing that you do it with loving and caring for  people.

“I enjoy doing volunteer work. It reminded me of doing missions in Mexico years ago, and it’s always an awesome feeling knowing we can help people around us. I believe that the food bank is doing mission work because you’re putting your heart and soul into it and changing others’ lives and doing it for Christ.”

Church planting strategist Daniel Caceres agreed.

“For me, it was a great time to learn how we can work as a team,” he said.  “Also, we discovered a new method to serve the Lord and our neighbors.”

Jennifer Hill, church planting & Smaller in Attendance Church (SAC)ministry assistant, said, “Our time at the food bank was incredible! It was great to put in action working together to accomplish so much. And, what we accomplished will impact the lives of so many people right here in our state. It was a good reminder that there are so many starving people all around us and that there are numerous ways we can help. It is always a privilege to be part of something that makes a positive difference. I’m thankful we had the opportunity to go to the food bank, and I hope in the future, we are given more opportunities to serve our community together.”

Baptist Messenger art director Ricardo Herrera,a fairly new BGCO employee, said, “It was an eye opener to realize that Oklahomans, especially children, are more hungry than I thought.”

He added that he “had a great time being a part of a big team working on a bigger goal,” and that the event was a rewarding experience.

“It felt pretty good helping the food bank. My contribution may have been small as an individual, but as a group, I was impressed in the amount of work that was accomplished,” Herrera commented.

Jana Gabrielse, administrative assistant to the Communications and Church & Family Equipping teams, said, “It was such a rewarding experience! I think it should become an annual At Home Day event. I was so blessed by the ministry that they are providing to those in our state who are in need, from children to senior adults, but also impressed by the organization of the volunteers’ time. It is a well oiled machine!”

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has 825 partner agencies, including elementary schools in 53 counties across the western two-thirds of the state. Its service area stretches from Atoka and Durant in the southeast to Boise City in the Panhandle and from Hollis in the southwest corner of the state to Pawnee and Ponca City to the northeast.

Operating under the theme of “Fighting Hunger . . . Feeding Hope,” the regional food bank’s stated mission is “to help the charitable community efectively feed people in need.”

According to facts it supplied, more than 600,000 Oklahomans are at-risk of going hungry every day, including 1 in 5 children.  For every $1 donated, the food bank can provide seven meals to hungry Oklahomans. Amazingly, the food bank’s administrative costs amount to less than four percent, meaning that 96 cents out of every dollar donated goes to provide food for the hungry.

Among its services are three programs for children, including the Food for Kids backpack program, through which children identified by school personnel as chronically hungry receive a backpack filled with non-perishable, kid-friendly food for over the weekend or a school holiday. Last year, more than 11,500 children were in this program in 394 schools in 49 central and western Oklahoma counties.

The BGCO volunteers filled  64 cases of bags containing items for the backpack program on Oct. 11.

The food bank also has a Food for Kids Summer Feeding Program for children who depend on federally-funded free and reduced meals during the school year, and its 16 Food for Kids Cafes provide ongoing support and a “safe haven” for nearly 900 at-risk children. During the school year, the program provides nutritious snacks or an evening meal for up to 1,000 children daily and in the summer, the program provides breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack.

The food bank’s mission stretches to the elderly as well with its Senior Feeding Program, a pilot program that provides weekend food assistance to homebound seniors and mobile food pantries at senior housing sites. Its urban Harvest gardening program also provides fresh produce while providing agricultural education, community outreach and ecological conservation.

In its first year of operation, the Regional Food Bank distributed 280,000 pounds of food, an amount which is now distributed in about three days. The nonprofit provides enough food to feed more than 90,000 people every week. In fiscal year 2011, the Food Bank distributed 46.2 million pounds of food. Since its inception in 1980, the Food Bank has distributed more than 460 million pounds of food to needy families.