The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma Protein Initiative reports that is committed to increasing access to much-needed protein for clients across central and western Oklahoma through its USDA room and Beef for Backpacks. Thanks to the Tyson Protein Innovation Fund through Feeding America, $50,000 was awarded to the nonprofit to increase the amount of protein available to fight hunger. Out of the more than 200 food banks in Feeding America’s national network, the Regional Food Bank is the first food bank in the country with an on-site facility capable of handling large quantities of donated USDA meat products. It also is the only food bank with a Beef for Backpacks program.
“Protein is the No. 1 request from clients and partner agencies and is one of the most challenging food items to secure,” said Steve Kullberg, VP of operations at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. “Thanks to the Tyson Protein Innovation Fund and many community partners, we are able to increase the pounds of protein distributed to our clients and partner agencies by 33.6 percent compared to the same time last year.”
The USDA room gives food processors the opportunity to donate useable food that currently is going to waste—capturing an entirely new source of protein. Since the USDA room opened in July, more than 137,000 pounds of new protein products have been packed and distributed to fight hunger, surpassing the nonprofit’s original projection of repacking 10,000 pounds of protein a month. The product has provided the equivalent of 114,166 meals for Oklahomans struggling with hunger.
Additionally, the Regional Food Bank established a food safety team to make food safety, and the health of clients, a priority. As part of this initiative, the Regional Food Bank partnered with the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center; Victor Gramillo, Fresh Creative Foods; Dr. Kinsey Naylor, USDA; Tressa Madden, Food Bank Board chair, Vanguard Sciences; and Ray Haefele, retired Tyson Foods’ executive.
“By establishing a Food Safety and Inspection Service meat inspected area, the Regional Food Bank is demonstrating that food safety is a priority,” said Jason Young, quality control and management specialist at the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center. “They have implemented food safety programs in their entire establishment to consistently reduce potential food safety risks.”
Volunteers also play an important role and are needed to help repackage meat donations in the USDA room on Tuesday and Thursday, according to the food bank. These volunteers will go through a special food safety orientation.
The Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs program also are a part of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s Protein Initiative that helps fight childhood hunger across the state. This program creates collaborative relationships with local farmers, manufacturers and processors to provide more than 400,000 protein sticks for the nonprofit’s Food for Kids Backpack Program. Through the Tyson Protein Innovation Fund, the nonprofit hopes to increase the number of protein sticks to more than 700,000 each year.
Through the Backpack Program, children receive a backpack full of kid-friendly, non-perishable and nutritious food on Friday to sustain them over weekend and school holidays. Last school year, more than 18,500 students in 514 schools participated in the Backpack Program.
“One in four children may go to bed tonight hungry,” said Kullberg. “By working together, we are providing chronically hungry children in the state with an important Oklahoma-grown protein source.”