Poverty and food insecurity in Oklahoma are widespread problems. Thousands of children around the state receive food assistance during the school year through free or reduced school lunches. But during summer, where do all of those kids eat?
Recent OBU graduate Emma Patton is helping answer that question for hungry kids across the state. As an AmeriCorps Summer Feeding Monitor for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, she travels to dozens of feeding sites each week to offer assistance and ensure government compliance.
“Every day, I get the chance to encourage people who are feeding thousands of children in our state,” Patton said. “A lot of times, they just need help doing the paperwork that comes with participating in a federally-funded program.”
The Summer Feeding Service Program, run by the United States Department of Agriculture, provides funding to sponsors across the nation. One sponsor, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, serves 53 of the 77 counties in the state.
“Every day is something new,” Patton said. “One day, I will drive to the panhandle. The next, I’ll stay in the metro or maybe drive to Lawton. It is never boring.”
For the most part, Patton’s days are happy and filled with the joyful chaos of a school cafeteria. However, she said the stark realities of poverty are ever-present in her daily routine.
“At a lot of the sites I go to, there will be nothing left on the share table,” she said. “One out of every four kids in Oklahoma goes to bed hungry each day, and seeing these kids makes that statistic way more than just a number.”
Despite the gravity of food insecurity, Patton stays hopeful. Her encouragement comes from interactions with generous people serving meals to the kids and – oftentimes – the children themselves.
“Recently, I went to monitor a site in the metro,” she said. “The kids saw my Regional Food Bank nametag and one of them said, ‘Thank you for bringing us food.’ So many people are so grateful for a free meal.”
Patton’s AmeriCorps service will end with the final day of the Summer Feeding Service Program in August, but she said she will never forget the people she met this summer.
“From the employees at the Regional Food Bank, to the site supervisors, to the kids we get to serve every day, all of them have inspired me,” Patton said. “While I hope to have made some sort of impact, they are the ones who have truly impacted me.”
Patton will be attending graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin beginning this fall, where she will pursue a master’s degree in community and regional planning. She aspires to pursue a career in city planning.