Boatman Hosts Study on Food Insecurity

Oct 31, 2023
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The Oklahoma House of Representatives Children, Youth and Family Services Committee heard an interim study last week on food insecurity and assistance access across the state.

The study was organized by Rep. Jeff Boatman of Tulsa, who requested the study following the Legislature's consideration of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. He realized how many Oklahomans struggle to access healthy food and told the committee that when children have limited meals throughout the weekend, they have difficulty focusing in school on Monday mornings. 

Attendees heard first from J. Chris Bernard, president and CEO of Hunger Free Oklahoma.

"Food insecurity, generally, and resource scarcity add stress to a household," Bernard said. "If you actually look at what scarcity does to the brain, it takes away your ability to think long-term. You have to focus right here." 

B.K. Bruner spoke about his lived experience struggling with food insecurity when he suddenly found himself responsible for caring for his siblings. 

"I knew about paying bills because growing up I worked and I helped pay the mortgage and helped my mom pay the bills. I did not know about what to do about getting food," Bruner said. "My brother and sister and I were just out of luck. The red tape that existed in front of us simply was insurmountable for an 18-year-old kid."

Bruner told attendees he had difficulty receiving food through many programs because he was not the legal guardian of his siblings and could not afford an attorney to guide him through the legal process. Instead, he and his three-year-old sister walked about three miles to a nearby food assistance charity to receive food donations. 

"These programs that we've heard about here today actually impact people's lives, actually impact people's ability to be productive, to be able to add to our economy instead of a drain on our economy," Bruner said.

Dave Wattenbarger, community connections manager for Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, spoke on struggles unique to rural Oklahoma and said the most common struggles are with money, manpower and resources. 

Some rural food pantries are primarily staffed by elderly people who may not be able to drive at night, limiting the hours a pantry may be accessible to people living far away. 

"Moving forward, anything that we can do to begin to look at these money, manpower, and resources, whether that means some type of incentive, but we could desperately use that help big time," Wattenbarger said. 

Scooter Vaughan, director of rural initiatives for Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, said that a one-size-fits-all solution is difficult to implement successfully because of the varied challenges people must face to accessing a nearby food bank. 

"I am very grateful to the speakers who took the time out of their day to visit with us and share their expertise," Boatman said. "Food insecurity is a serious concern that affects the wellbeing and livelihoods of thousands of Oklahomans, and we need to reexamine how we address these issues in Oklahoma so we are best leveraging the public and private resources we have available." 

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