School is already out for many Tulsa students, and for families struggling with food insecurity the summer months can be a lean time. Tulsa Public Schools reports that 84% of students in their district receive a free or reduced lunch. For these kids, the summer months can be hungry months if their ongoing nutritional needs are not met.
To address this need, the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides meals during the summer break. Nationwide, 2.28 million children participated in the program in 2012.
The TPS version of this program, Summer Café, kicks off on June 3rd and lasts through July 26th.
There are no applications or documentation requirements. Summer Café will feed children regardless of school enrollment, citizenship or status.
More than 60 sites across the TPS district will serve breakfast and lunch to children under the age of 18. Locations include schools, worship centers and community centers.
According to a recent story on Tulsa’s Channel 8 News, the program served 81,690 breakfasts and 121,201 lunches to Tulsa children during the summer of 2012. However, TPS wants to spread the word about Summer Café, because they feel they could serve more children if they raised awareness about this program.
Across Oklahoma, other areas are also offering the Summer Food Service Program:
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In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided a much needed increase in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. However, that temporary increase in benefits will expire in November. This upcoming loss of funding has some people worried, especially since Congress is currently considering further cuts.
SNAP remains a rather popular and effective program. According to a new poll by the Food Research and Action Center, 70% of voters are opposed to cutting SNAP benefits in order to reduce spending. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently posted a series of Facts on SNAP, and their analysis shows:
- SNAP provides a modest benefit to families with very low incomes, with two-thirds of recipients being elderly, disabled or children. (In Oklahoma, the CBPP reports that 75% of SNAP families include children and 26% are families with elderly or disabled members.)
- SNAP families are largely working families, and of the households with able bodied adults, 58% are working when they receive SNAP and 82% work within a year of receiving SNAP.
- SNAP is also efficient, with the rate of error and overpayment at an all-time low.
- The size of the SNAP program is designed to grow and shrink based on the rate of poverty and unemployment, and because of this design it quickly responded to the needs of low-income families during the recession.
Cuts in funding due to the expiration of the Recovery Act alone will mean that the nearly 17% of Oklahomans, or approximately 652,000 people, who currently receive SNAP assistance (more…)
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Last week I wrote about attending the Tulsa premier of A Place at the Table. The film and the discussion that followed raised so many important issues I decided to write a two-part report. My previous post focused on the film. This second installment will focus on the discussion that followed.
A Place at the Table opened at the Circle Cinema on March 8th, and was followed by a panel discussion featuring three local advocates. These three local experts were:
For a little over an hour, an audience crowded the lobby of the theater as panelists talked about the local story. The conversation brought home the fact that hunger is a disturbingly local problem. Despite the continuing efforts of local organizations, the panelists were not there to report they were meeting all the needs of their clients – they were there to tell us the need is still greater than their resources. Here are just a few of the important points the panelist covered:
- Oklahoma is Among the Leaders in U.S. Hunger: The panel began with facts about hunger in our city and our state, and
if you visit the Community Food Bank’s “Hunger Fact” page it presents a similar foundation of relevent facts about food insecurity (The “Hunger Fact” webpage is no longer available. You can visit Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap and click on Oklahoma for relevent information instead.) Here are two quick indicators that Oklahoma has a problem with hunger: 1) In 2011, the USDA ranked Oklahoma fourth (more…)
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A couple of weeks ago, in my previous post, I promised to write about the Tulsa premier of A Place at the Table and the discussion that followed. It’s impossible to sum up every issue brought up by the film. It is equally impossible to write a single post about the film and the discussion that followed; too many important topics to cover. So this will be a two-part report highlighting some of the issues that I found particularly relevant. For this first installment, I want to talk about the film itself, with the understanding this in no way represents the entire list of issues raised by the documentary.
A Place at the Table draws its power from the personal stories of people struggling to afford healthy food. Experts on nutrition and hunger push the message further by explaining the negative effects long-term food insecurity has on a person’s health, education and potential. After watching this documentary, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that this problem is bigger than any one charity can tackle; it is bigger than the current funding of our social safety net can address. These are just three of the reasons why:
- The rate and requirements of SNAP benefits are out of sync with the cost of living. As the film tracks the story of Barbie, a single mother in Philadelphia, this fact becomes clear. Barbie loses her SNAP benefits entirely when she begins to earn more money, but despite a slightly higher paycheck her overall financial situation has not improved. Her children are still eating canned noodles instead of a balanced diet and their mental and physical development will be impacted as a consequence.
- The school lunch program, launched under the Truman administration, was a great idea but is currently underfunded. The film points out that less than a dollar a day per child is actually spent on food for lunches, and then demonstrates how it is impossible to make a quality meal that meets dietary needs on that budget. (more…)
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I last blogged about the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma in September as part of Hunger Action Month. At the time, local restaurants were helping the food bank raise money for their Food for Kids program. Now, the food bank is sponsoring a movie screening to raise awareness about American’s underfed families. The screening will feature a new documentary called A Place at the Table. The film, brought to us by the people responsible for Food, Inc. (2006), combines the stories of real people with commentary from experts on hunger and nutrition. The film’s creators, as well as groups around the country, are hoping the film will spark a nationwide conversation about how to end hunger for nearly 50 million Americans.
Starting an honest conversation is important, because there is an ongoing problem with misconceptions and misinformation when it comes to hunger in America. Proponents of food programs are constantly trying to set the record straight. In February, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities discredited many of the details behind recent efforts to incorrectly portray safety net programs as wasteful spending. OKPolicy Blog just discussed how an Oklahoma proposal to increase work requirements for SNAP recipients would penalize underemployed Oklahomans. (SNAP is the program formerly known as food stamps). OKPolicy rightly pointed out that many (more…)
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For anyone following Newark Mayor Cory Booker on Twitter, or keeping up with him in the news, Tuesday, December 4th was the big day. Booker will try to live a week on the monetary equivalent of the average SNAP benefit, which comes out to $1.40 a meal. Newark’s mayor will demonstrate how tough it is for low-income families to cover the cost of a healthy diet, especially if the main resource for their grocery budget is SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps.
Booker is not the first politician to take the challenge. However, his prominence has turned the endeavor into national news, and it is worth a brief discussion about how the numbers play out in Oklahoma, where 880,939 people received SNAP benefits in 2011.
First some background. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is designed to do just what the name suggests: act as a supplement to other income. Recent numbers from the American Community Survey (ACS) show the program is largely living up to its name in Oklahoma, where an estimated 77% of participants are working families.
The supplemental income provided by SNAP in Oklahoma amounts to $1541.16 annually. The value is loaded onto a card, similar to a debit card, and funds can only be used on qualified food items; so no diapers, no alcohol, no dog food, and no vitamins.
To qualify for SNAP in Oklahoma, monthly household income for a family of four must fall below $2,422, or $29,064 annually. Combining the average SNAP benefit with the maximum allowable income in this scenario puts total household income at $30,605.16. According to Federal Poverty Guidelines, this combined total puts a family of four at about 137% of (more…)
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It’s November and time to think about what we will make for that important meal. And for some families in Tulsa, we’re not just talking about the highly anticipated Thanksgiving Feast. Set the Table Tulsa is challenging local families to sit down at the dinner table four times a week, every week, all month long. In a busy and overly connected world, it seems like a radical idea: family bonding, without the television, the computer or the cell phone as the center of our attention. However, when we are able to incorporate this simple form of family time into our routines, it should be a cause of ongoing thanksgiving.
And let’s face it, if finding time for a sit down dinner was easy, it wouldn’t be such a rare event. It comes down to time, a precious commodity in our busy world, and if we want to spend time wisely we need to budget it just like we do our money. Set the Table Tulsa has provided a space for participants to blog about their experiences as they change the way they view mealtime.
Vanesa Mares is one of the writers documenting how this experience is impacting her life. She is already keeping up with a busy schedule, between caring for her children, one of whom is enrolled in CAP’s early childhood program, and developing her own skills through CAP’s CareerAdvance® program. Yet she and her family are making the time to eat together. In her posts she discusses her family’s process of setting a meal plan and trying to disconnect from the cell phone, which is something to which we can all relate. Turning the phone to silent and setting it aside during dinner is one suggestion I am challenging myself to adopt after reading her posts, and I suspect I’ll be thankful for thirty minutes of peace and quiet. (more…)
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