Kids Helping Kids: New Iron Gate Program in Tulsa
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Jerry Hillberg readily admitted. “[My life] started out okay, but due to losing my job, my own doings and my mom enabling me by paying for everything to help me out, I ended up here.”
Jerry, along with his two sons, regularly visits Iron Gate in Tulsa, a downtown soup kitchen and food pantry. Iron Gate feeds over 200,000 people each year and gives out 11,000 emergency grocery bags of food provided by the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma (CFBEO), which serves 450 partner programs like Iron Gate in Green Country. Seventy percent of the bags go to the working poor, and most are families with children. Like Jerry, many parents have difficulty making their dollars stretch through the month. According to Meghann Ray, Iron Gate’s marketing and communications director, approximately 400 families per week have been coming in throughout the summer on “grocery days” to pick up bags of food. In addition, any child under age 18 gets a one-gallon Kid Pack to take home.
Marsha Bukhofser, director of external relations of the CFBEO, said demand for food is increasing, while the amount of food available to them is decreasing. “The amount of food provided by the USDA has gone down,” she said. “The program has been reduced, which puts a burden on partner programs to make up for that.”
Those who provide food for struggling families and individuals worry about the insecurity of SNAP (formerly food stamps). Community charities cannot fill the hole left when government programs are cut.
“The [federal] budget is such a big topic,” Bukhofser said, “but it’s putting that priority ahead of people. If you have more people struggling, it puts everyone in a worse place.”
“We don’t have enough to give,” Ray added. “It’s hard to keep up with the demand.”
In Jerry’s case, a job loss in his hometown in North Dakota spurred a moved to Tulsa where his sister could help him as he looks for a job.
“Right now I’m living on plasma and child support,” Jerry said. “I’m applying for jobs all the time.” His children are Native American through their mother, so they receive some money from the tribe. “We buy groceries, but it doesn’t last through the month, and we usually end up here [at Iron Gate] during the last two weeks.”
Jerry describes his hometown as a place where methadone and alcohol addiction were rampant when he was growing up, and it is still that way. “I never did meth, but their (his sons) mother is drinking and doing meth.”
Because of his ex-wife’s addiction problems, Jerry brought his boys to live with him, and he tries to stay true to what he calls “the answer,” or being an obedient Christian.
“I want my boys to know they’re protected and kept,” he said. “And I want to raise them to be responsible for themselves.”
Like Jerry’s boys, one in four children in Oklahoma is food insecure. Bukhofser describes food insecurity as being at risk of going to bed hungry and not knowing where the family will get food in the next few months.
“People often want to place blame when it comes to hunger,” said Maggie Hoey, communications and marketing manager with the CFBEO. “With childhood hunger, you can’t do that. Children are not at fault. Kids’ hunger can be invisible. They don’t come up to you and say, ‘We’re hungry.’”
And most parents are doing their best to feed their children. As Jerry put it, “I want the same thing as every parent wants – that their kids are better than them, and better off.”
What You Can Do
September is hunger action month, and Hoey said that they would “like people to acknowledge there’s a need and take action. Donate, volunteer and advocate.”
Iron Gate wants to encourage children and teens in the community to volunteer through a new program they’ve created called Kids Helping Kids, which focuses on Kids’ Packs, gallon-sized Ziploc bags filled with healthy, kid-friendly snacks.
“We’re reaching out to schools, organizations and groups to encourage kids and teens to get involved in helping feed hungry children,” said Bailey Adkison, communications coordinator at Iron Gate.
Kids Helping Kids has three components: Education, Compassion and Service. “We feel that we can teach kids to be compassionate neighbors when they’re young,” Ray said. “I believe we can raise awareness [of the problem of hunger] in our community. If we teach our kids now, they’ll be more educated and compassionate when these issues come up when they’re adults.”
There are many ways to volunteer, whether it’s holding food drives or loading Kids’ Packs and bringing them to Iron Gate.
“We’re willing to work with groups to tailor the volunteer service to whatever they want the experience to be,” Ray said.
Both Ray and Adkison are available to speak to classes, groups or organizations about Kids Helping Kids and help them come up with ways to do service.
To find out how you can get your family, school, group or club involved in Kids Helping Kids, contact Bailey Adkison, Kids Helping Kids program coordinator, at Iron Gate at email@example.com or 918.359.9037
Why I Help at Iron Gate
We should help at Iron Gate because the people at Iron Gate are our neighbors. They are people like us but they are hungry and need help. Someday we might need help too. If the people who can help those who need help, it makes the world better and then we know someone will help us if we ever need it. It also feels really good to help and to remember that the people at Iron Gate are just like us. -by Lily Gehres, age 9
People can’t do stuff when they’re hungry. Iron Gate is helping and feeding people so they won’t be hungry. I volunteer at Iron Gate because it makes me feel good to be able to help so many people who need a meal or other supplies they need to keep living. So many people go hungry and cannot support their families. It is the least I can do to come and give out kids’ packs and other necessities to part of this population. This is such a great opportunity for kids and adults to help out. -by Sarah Gehres, age 11