By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
There are more than 675,000 Oklahomans at risk of hunger every day, including one in four children in the state.
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma distributes enough food to feed more than 90,000 hungry Oklahomans each week through more than 1,000 community pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and schools in central and western Oklahoma.
Children who live with hunger develop physically and socially at a slower pace than their peers. Chronically hungry children experience higher levels of anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability and aggression resulting in lower school attendance and lower academic performance.
The Regional Food Bank’s School Pantry Program started in 2011 and has grown to serve 42 middle and high schools in 10 counties across Oklahoma.
Each week, chronically hungry kids are able to take home shelf-stable food including canned goods, fruit cups, cereal and Extra Helpings packaged meals.
One Oklahoma student named Gia looks forward to the macaroni and cheese and fruit juice she receives through the program.
Raising Gia and her brothers has been a challenge for her father, who pours concrete, and her mom, who cares full time for her older brother who is both mentally and physically disabled. The family struggles on their small income, but with the public’s support, Gia can visit the food pantry at her school when the food supply at home is particularly low.
“It makes it so people don’t have to worry as much because they can put food on the table,” Gia said.
Gia hopes to participate in another program called Oklahoma’s Promise by attending either the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma’s Promise is a scholarship program that pays tuition and fees at the state’s public colleges and universities for qualifying students in low to middle income families.
By utilizing the Regional Food Bank, Gia gets the nourishment she needs to help achieve her goals.
“Thank you, because it really does help us,” Gia said. “It’s very kind to donate so kids have the food they need.”
More Oklahomans are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, than any other time in the state’s history and unemployment is at a five-year high.
In order to help with this crisis, registration is now open for the OKC NYD Blastoff 5K, which will be held in downtown Oklahoma City on New Year’s Day, January 1. The 5K event starts at 9 a.m. at 5th & Harvey near the downtown Post Office and the National Memorial.
Donations will benefit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and participants are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to the race.
“Our goal is to make a post-holiday difference for hungry Oklahoma families in need during the winter months of 2014,” said race director John Oseland. “Bring your friends for some fun and fitness to start the year off right. Come be part of our mission and we’ll see you on New Year’s Day.”
This family friendly event is open to strollers, walkers, and dogs on leashes.
Participants will receive a long sleeve Tech Shirt and Custom Finisher Medal and will enjoy hot dogs, drinks, and black eyed peas at the end of the race.
The event includes Overall and Age Group Awards as well as Costume Contest Prizes, Coffee and hot chocolate will be provided.
DG Productions will coordinate runners with Chronotrack Live, providing real time online, mobile, and social media options for athletes to choose from.
Participants are invited to make a donation to the Regional Food Bank through the online event registration process. Thanks to a $1 Million Holiday match from Chesapeake Energy and a caring local family, donations made through January 15 will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $1 Million. Every $1 donated will provide 10 meals for Oklahomans with inconsistent access to food.
To register, visit www.blastoff5k.com or for more information about the Regional Food Bank, visit www.regionalfoodbank.org