In TSET’s Strategic Plan, the organization seeks to address long-term needs for prevention and better health outcomes for Oklahomans. One way to fulfill these needs is investing in existing projects that aim to improve food access and distribution systems in Oklahoma.
These efforts seek to increase the availability of fresh fruits, vegetables and nutritious foods, as well as support incentive programs for retailers to increase access to nutritious foods. Additionally, TSET supports initiatives that promote more consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by Oklahomans. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only a small percentage of Oklahomans eat the appropriate amount of fruit daily (8%) or eat recommended amounts of vegetables (6.1%) – making Oklahoma one of the lowest states for fruit and vegetable consumption. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help reduce risk factors for obesity, several diseases and cancer.
In 2019, the TSET Board of Directors approved a resolution in support of removing barriers to accessing healthy foods. To assist in this effort, the Board authorized the expenditure of up to $1 million for Food Systems Impact Grants. TSET issued a request for proposals to identify where funding was immediately needed to help food systems increase access to healthy, nutritious foods for Oklahomans.
In August 2020, TSET’s Board of Directors approved seven proposals for funding. Each award resulted in a 12-month agreement between TSET and the applicant organization.
Here are their stories:
Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County
Project: Expand and enhance the snack/dinner program (CACFP), hire a food coordinator and invest in commercial grade kitchen equipment.
The Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County typically serves snacks for its afterschool program. However, since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the club’s work shifted from serving 500 grab-and-go meals per week with a residential stove to serving 1,500 meals per week (breakfast, lunch, after school snack and dinner) to meet the needs of the children they serve, as well as their families.
As a community service entity, the Boys & Girls Club’s programming expanded to fill the community need, serving children all day to accommodate virtual learning and fluctuating family schedules. The TSET grant has allowed for a conversion from a residential kitchen to an industrial commercial kitchen. With the upgrade, the Boys & Girls Club currently meets the demand of families and will be able to service additional programming.
By June, they expect to have the capability to serve hot meals in-house. Hired in January, a food program coordinator aids in logistics with suppliers and coordinates the food acquisition and distribution.
Appreciative families have said the Boys & Girls Club are filling a crucial need because buying food has been challenging during the pandemic.
Gateway to Prevention and Recovery
Project: Mobile Food Market to serve rural areas of Seminole County
Gateway to Prevention and Recovery operates multiple programs in central and eastern Oklahoma, including a TSET Healthy Living Program grant in Pottawatomie County. The goal of Gateway’s Food Systems grant is to operate a mobile food market that transports food to high-need areas in targeted counties. The initiative aims to alleviate immediate hunger and provide access to fresh produce.
The mobile market will be a semi-trailer that clients can walk through to select items. It has yet to be deployed due to COVID restrictions, but Gateway has been successful in delivering commodity boxes utilizing a drive-thru delivery system. Once the mobile market is operational, Gateway plans to expand the program into Seminole County, where it also will develop a food policy council and integrate health screenings into the mobile market customer experience.
Harper County Development Authority
Project: Laverne Food Security Cooperative; Collective Roots
Collective Roots is a community cooperative operating out of Laverne. The cooperative seeks innovative ways to connect local farmers, ranchers, gardeners and other food creators with consumers in need of their products. Additionally, the cooperative attempts to increase economic development through selling products made locally.
Collective Roots has a Made in Oklahoma storefront open in downtown Laverne. The TSET grant enabled the cooperative to hire a part-time food coordinator to handle the opening and operation of that storefront, the building of a website, and brand development for products.
The food coordinator has also worked on developing a food policy council, SNAP acceptance at the market and getting fresh fruits and veggies to Early Head Start students and teachers. Collective Roots also partners with the Regional Food Bank to serve 125 families per month and 12 individuals at the senior center.
Hunger Free Oklahoma
Project: Expansion of the Double Up Oklahoma program to increase access to fruits and vegetables for low-income and food-insecure Oklahomans.
Double Up Oklahoma (DUO) shines as Hunger Free Oklahoma’s beacon program to help address food insecurity while also incentivizing healthy choices by matching Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars in farmers markets and grocery stores. When used for eligible items, DUO matches SNAP funds dollar-for-dollar, up to $20 per day.
TSET’s investment through its Food System grant enabled HFO to expand the DUO program from participating farmers markets to four grocery stores, with the possibility of expanding to seven stores. TSET funding also supports the evaluation of the effectiveness of the program which will be useful in expanding this concept statewide or nationally.
The pilot for DUO’s point-of-sale program expansion took place at the Okemah Homeland. The pilot store saw a 22 percent redemption rate – more than double the national average – accounting for more than $3,000 per week in additional produce sold.
The project’s next phase will include expansion to Jay, Altus and Bartlesville. Each of these store interventions includes health communication marketing, community outreach and an evaluation by the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health. The DUO program evaluation includes in-store observations, manager and staff interviews and literature reviews. The hope is that the program can be expanded through multiple grocery chains in coming years while helping make the “healthy choice the easy choice” for Oklahomans when accessing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
Project: Expand Senior Servings Program
A well-known advocate for food insecurity and hunger issues, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (RFBO) operates multiple programs to increase access to food through a network of more than 1,300 community-based partner agencies and schools in 53 counties in central and western Oklahoma.
Through its Senior Servings Program, RFBO targets food-insecure seniors living independently and receiving meals at an in-person Oklahoma City feeding site on weekdays, but are food insecure on weekends. The program provides frozen meals, prepared by the Regional Food Bank’s Hope’s Kitchen, so the seniors can easily heat them in an oven or microwave and enjoy nutritious meals during the weekend.
RFBO has recruited 12 partner agencies in this grant period to participate in the Senior Servings Program. In the build-up to its full capacity, RFBO researched the barriers and needs of seniors to access nutritious food, then developed meals and easy-open packaging to accommodate those needs.
Using data gathered from interviews and surveys with seniors, the program shaped its offerings and meals that seniors receive based on dexterity, strength and cognition limitations. Special provisions for senior meals are diabetic diet, low sodium diet, easy to follow cooking instructions, space to store food.
The Senior Servings Program is expected to grow as the food bank is acquiring seven new partners each month. RFBO is also working with the OKC Housing Authority on a brick-and-mortar certified healthy senior pantry for low-income seniors.
Project: Increase Mobile Meals program for seniors
RSVP Enid is a hub services for seniors in Garfield and surrounding counties. Initial contact with seniors typically comes through its Mobile Meals program, an ongoing program that connects seniors living alone or otherwise needing community services or transportation with an RSVP staff member. Once connected to RSVP, seniors can receive referrals to many other services in and around Enid including home health, Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Team, minor home repairs, transport for vaccinations, and a homebound counseling program through St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.
Since the beginning of 2020, RSVP Enid has witnessed a 38 percent increase in demand for services. The TSET Food Systems grant enables RSVP Enid to increase the number of Mobile Meals distributed, providing additional contact points for a population that needs connection as they “age in place” in rural Oklahoma. RSVP serves 1,000 seniors per week in various ways, through a network of 423 volunteers.
Project: Tulsa’s River West/Eugene Field Community
Urban Strategies is a national nonprofit working in Tulsa with residents from the River West/Eugene Field community while that neighborhood undergoes redevelopment. Urban Strategies’ mission is to ensure the stability of low-income residents during a physical revitalization/relocation process.
The program teaches adults and children about healthy nutrition through educational materials, one-on-one education and support, group classes for chronic health condition management, and health-focused community events. Additionally, the program works to ensure residents have access to nutritious food options through a promotion of the Double Up Oklahoma program, the Fresh EBT app, rebates for using SNAP benefits, and a partnership with Tulsa Public Schools.
After securing the TSET grant, the organization created a multi-level action plan regarding expansion of food access and how to impact food choices within the community. Urban Strategies serves 320 households that total about 1,000 individuals.
Using data gathered in the first months of the grant, Urban Strategies kicked off their “Reaching Your True Potential” incentive program in January 2021. The program allows residents to collect points every time they participate in health and wellness activities. Those points may then be exchanged for small kitchen appliances, gift cards for produce or cookware. Health and wellness topics and activities may include family health, Double Up Bucks, exercise, or other timely topics. Residents also engage with a case manager, so that Urban Strategies can track who is enrolled and how to best assist.
Currently, Urban Strategies is working on a sustainable food system action plan. In March, Urban Strategies launched a “Community is Medicine” program comprised of two cohorts with 30 residents each. The goal of the program is to focus on holistic community health and engagement of community.