As some metro schools have transitioned to virtual learning and local families are struggling due to higher unemployment during the pandemic, local nonprofit Filling Tummies began to rethink their typical model to feed community members.
Filling Tummies was launched in 2017 as a mobile food pantry serving local school children. Executive director Lisa Blacknoll, along with board members and volunteers, outfitted a brightly colored bus with fresh produce and healthy snacks that visits metro schools each Friday. Students get to shop for fruits, vegetables and other staples to take home for the weekend. Kids feel empowered to choose their favorites, try new things and make special selections for siblings and parents, too.
“We try to encourage them because kids can be picky,” said Filling Tummies board secretary and metro mom of two Candice Sellers. “We introduce them to fresh fruits and produce and then they can choose what they want.”
But with schools canceled in the spring due to the pandemic and largely transitioning to virtual school in the area the organization primarily serves, organizers knew they needed a new and socially distant plan to continue serving.
Filling Tummies has previously held food distribution events at Life Changes & Wellness Events Center in Spencer, so the team decided to make some pandemic-friendly tweaks to their model and instead host a drive-through food giveaway event this summer. Prepackaged boxes of fresh foods and kitchen staples were prepared by volunteers and then loaded into cars as community members stopped by.
The July 25 event handed out 420 boxes, totaling 19,000 pounds of food provided to community members. Typically after hosting events like this, Filling Tummies has some food leftover that they provide to other area organizations feeding the hungry. Not this time.
“Everything went, so there is a really great need,” said Sellers.
Preparing for food distribution events are a great labor of love, all fueled by volunteers. Because Filling Tummies focuses on providing fresh foods, items are purchased as close to the event as possible to ensure freshness and then must be packaged and prepped for the giveaway events.
Sellers, who has been involved with the organization since the beginning, loves the opportunity to help the community, especially because she remembers what it’s like to go without.
“We are hard-working moms and dads fulfilling the needs of the organization, and we understand the need,” said Candice. “Most of us in the organization have come from some of the same backgrounds of the people we are wanting to help, and that’s one of the things that drives us.”
Because of the tremendous success and ongoing need, Sellers says the team hopes to continue the drive-through option even when schools reopen and they can resume their Friday afternoon distribution to students. The team is brainstorming multiple options to take the pantry back to schools with safety and social distancing their top priorities.
“We’ll have to limit how many come through at a time,” said Sellers. “Or drop things off and the schools can distribute.”
Especially if schools remain in all-virtual mode, the team is also considering how to reach more families in their homes or communities. The First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, the Surgical Hospital of Oklahoma and the Central Area Disciples Women of Oklahoma have all been instrumental in helping Filling Tummies during the pandemic, but the organization needs additional support from area businesses, families and individuals to meet the tremendous need in our community.
HOW YOUR FAMILY CAN HELP
- Host a socially distant food drive to collect nonperishables within your neighborhood, business, church or school. Prepare a place where donations can be dropped off with no contact. Once you’ve collected all your donations, contact Filling Tummies to hand them off.
- Follow the Filling Tummies Facebook and Instagram pages to get information on upcoming volunteer needs, including picking up food donations and organizing and helping with food giveaways.
- Donate funds Filling Tummies can use to purchase fresh foods.
“More than ever we realize how fortunate we are to have our basic needs met, and even if as an individual we don’t have a lot to give ourselves, by coordinating an effort with a small group, one person can make giving efforts grow into the unexpected,” said Blacknoll.