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New Bill to Help the Hungry

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Politics.
March 26, 2013

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Every day thousands of Oklahomans deal with the issues with hunger as our state ranks 4th in food insecurity.

On the flip side, Oklahoma ranks 6th in the nation for restaurant food waste.

The legislature hopes to keep more of that food from going into the trash.

Volunteers at the Regional Food Bank in Oklahoma City get boxes of food ready to store in backpacks to help food insecure children.

The backpacks will eventually go to more than 13,000 school aged kids in 53 counties.

In a state which prides itself on agriculture and low unemployment, how can it be that one in four children are at risk of hunger?

Well, first off according to Food Bank Executive Director Rodney Bivens Oklahoma has a high poverty rate.

“We’re one of the highest poverty rates of any state in country and at the same time we have chronic under employment. Many people having to work two or three jobs without benefits just trying to get by, and they get to the third or fourth week of the month and they just don’t have enough dollars to stretch it and they need a little extra help just getting by.”

So while the Food Bank does what it can, a lot of food is going to waste.

Oklahoma has about 9,500 restaurants across the state and it’s estimated each one throws out 25 pounds of food daily.

That’s more than 230,000 pounds of food.

But, House Bill 1418 could put in place procedures to get that food to the hungry.

The major concern is that many restaurants in Oklahoma are choosing not to donate because of liability from food allergies.

This concern comes from two seemingly conflicting federal laws.

The 1996 Good Samaritan Act provided liability protection for donated food, but the 2004 Food Safety in Labeling and Packaging Act required the listing of allergens on food.

Jim Brooks with the Oklahoma State Food and Ag Product Center says the legislation needed to contain safeguards on the food people were getting.

“If someone’s going to donate several loaves of bread that has something in it, eggs or milk or wheat or something, it could be marked and if you have a known allergen to that, that’s something you wouldn’t pick up. You’ve been notified. You’ve been warned.”

So, this new state bill would allow restaurants to place a generic label on the food to warn people of the contents.

It’s getting support from the Needs Foundation and its spokesperson, a major figure in Oklahoma sports reaching out to supporters in a web based promotion.

“Hi I’m Russell Westbrook; did you know that one in four Oklahoma children will go to bed hungry tonight? We’ve teamed up with the needs foundation to end hunger in Oklahoma by collecting underserved restaurant food and delivering to those in need.

Jerry Abbo with the Needs Foundation says with 75% of Oklahoma’s malnutrition involving students, the Needs Foundation especially wants to focus on food being served in school cafeterias and avoiding waste there.

“If it was a perishable foods that are sealed like chips or bananas or oranges that the students don’t throw this away maybe put it in a box and if they’re tutoring after class they could use this for snacks or nutrients throughout the rest of the day.”

One of the restaurants currently working with the Needs Foundation is the Deep Fork Grill in northwest Oklahoma City.

After catering, the restaurant usually has full meals including appetizers, salads and a main dish.

Manager John Abston says if it doesn’t get donated it just goes to waste.

“To see it go to waste is no good, obviously and why not. It should be given away. The excess should be given away and used. Once it’s paid for, why should it be thrown away.”

The Needs Foundation estimates if 25 pounds of food were collected from just 40% of restaurants in Oklahoma City alone it would bring in 95,000 pounds of food every day.

Under the new legislation, the elderly at senior nutrition centers could also be allowed to take food home after lunch is served.

HB 1418 passed the House 80 to eight and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

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