It’s a brisk winter morning in southern Oklahoma as Noble Research Institute employees trickle in through the back door of the Food and Resource Center of South Central Oklahoma.
Two men unload canned goods off the back of a large truck. They haul the food into a brightly lit warehouse, where the Noble group begins to assemble.
The Food and Resource Center of South Central Oklahoma can provide food to between 90 and 100 families each day. The center is set up to look like a grocery store with fresh produce as well as refrigerated and freezer sections.
Each member is clad in a green T-shirt with the words “Team Noble.” Most days this crew is absorbed in research that will help farmers and ranchers overcome challenges associated with food production. Today they will help ensure food is in the hands of community members who need it.
Amie Stearns, graphic and web production specialist, restocks shelves at the center.
After a quick tour of the facilities, the team splits up. Some go help in the warehouse. Others end up in the grocery section, where they restock cans of green beans and bags of potatoes before the doors open for the day.
The volunteers gather for the daily review of available produce. Then the families begin to enter.
One Team Noble member escorts a woman and her grandson through the grocery aisles. The trio chats while the grandmother selects cereal and a bag of rice and the green-shirted volunteer drops the items into a basket.
“Serving humbles you,” says Brook Gaskamp, an adult education associate at the Noble Research Institute and co-coordinator for the organization’s Employee-Team-led community participation activities. “It makes you realize you are a small part of something bigger than yourself. Our founder, Lloyd Noble, once said, ‘The only true happiness must come from not only understanding your own needs but an understanding and willingness to secure the same things for your fellow man.’ That’s the belief that fuels Team Noble.”
Maofeng Chai, Ph.D., (foreground) a research scientist, and Landon Riggle, a Utility Services Center technician, help families shop and bag their food selections to take home.
Filling a Need
Within the four counties served by the center, 12,000 people are considered food-insecure. Without help, these families may not have food for their next meal.
According to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, 7,730 people in Carter County alone are hungry. Of those, 2,980 are children. The food bank reports that 24 percent of Oklahoma’s children are living below the federal poverty threshold.
In one day, the Food and Resource Center of South Central Oklahoma can provide food to between 90 and 100 families. The center served more than 1,500 households in June alone, and it is seeing 125 to 150 new households each month. With an average of three people per household, that’s a need the center can’t meet without volunteers.
“The volunteers make this run,” says James Rosson, executive director of the center. “To run smoothly and stock shelves, we need 30 volunteers a day. Our first goal is to get food to people. We have worked hard to refine our system so we can be as efficient as we can to serve as many people as we can.”
After clients pass through the doors, they begin at one of four intake desks. There, volunteers review household family members and help connect them to needed resources such as job openings, counseling or medical treatment. Through this step alone, the center strengthens partnerships in the community while offering stronger family stability.
From there, individuals or families are called into the food pantry, where they are met by a volunteer who provides personal shopping assistance. This personal connection makes the center a popular volunteer opportunity among Noble employees who sign up to serve the community through Team Noble.
“The food and resource center stirs something in you,” says Julie Barrick, a project management associate who also leads Noble’s Employee Team. “You get to interact with the people you help. It’s definitely become a favorite volunteer choice at Noble.”
It’s that stirring that brings volunteers from Noble and around the community back again and again to stack canned goods or lift heavy bags of potatoes.
“It makes you feel like you are doing something worthwhile when you see the direct benefits of this program,” Gaskamp says.
Ronald Trett, North Farms facility manager, helps keep the warehouse clean and in working order so that food items can easily be sorted and ready to restock the food pantry.
In addition to providing food valued at between $200 and $300 to each family, the center focuses on nutritional education. On Tuesdays at 10 a.m., clients can attend classes to learn more about nutritional needs and gain tips for shopping with healthy foods in mind. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension office offers various cooking classes and recipe demonstrations to support the center’s ongoing efforts to educate the community on healthy eating habits.
Collaboration is key to the success of the center, Rosson says.
“That’s something we understand at Noble,” Gaskamp says. “We believe that to build anything great, we must build it together. We show up one shift at a time to change one life at a time. And we walk away understanding a bit more of what our founder meant by ‘true happiness.’”