In the late 1970s and early 80s, food banking became a popular way to help eliminate hunger across the United States. Based on the idea of a “bank”, individuals and companies who had resources could make a “deposit” of food and funds through a donation and agencies could make “withdrawals.”
The Food Bank, originally known as the Tulsa Community Food Bank, was founded in 1981 as a project through Neighbor for Neighbor. The Food Bank began with a small donated warehouse and only 25 Partner Programs. During the first year of operation, the Food Bank distributed a little more than 90,000 pounds of food to agencies in the Tulsa area.
In 1985, through the generosity of several foundations and companies, the Food Bank was able to purchase and renovate a 15,600 square-foot warehouse. In 1990 the Food Bank’s storage capacity was enlarged by another much needed 12,000 square feet. This warehouse held a maximum of 653 pallets of food.
In 1997 the Food Bank distributed almost 5,000,000 pounds of donated food to 300 Partner Programs.
In 1988, the Food Bank initiated a “Rural Delivery Service” (RDS) to transport products to a site in McAlester in order to better serve our Partner Programs south of Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma. Food distribution to the rural areas in southeastern Oklahoma increased substantially because of this new service.
During 1991 the Food Bank increased the number of rural deliveries made to the McAlester area by 100%. Another RDS site was established in Vinita during the summer of 1993, serving the northeastern corner of the state. In 1995 another RDS site was added in Poteau, serving the mid eastern part of the state. Currently RDS has 13 sites throughout eastern Oklahoma.
In 1991 the Food Bank launched its Table to Table program, a prepared food transfer program. Excess prepared food from restaurants, hotels, cafeterias and caterers is picked up and delivered to agencies serving the homeless and those at risk of being homeless. This program later became our Prepared and Perishable Food Program.
The Fresh Produce Program was initiated in 1995. Local farmers and gardeners grow produce exclusively for the Food Bank to distribute to Partner Programs.
In 2001 the Tulsa Community Food Bank changed its name to the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to better reflect the Food Bank’s reach and impact in the 24 counties of eastern Oklahoma.
In 2005 the Food for Kids Backpack Program began, providing chronically hungry elementary school children with a bag of shelf-stable, kid-friendly food to eat on the weekends. The program started with 10 sites and fed 569 children in Tulsa County. In just 6 years the program had grown to include 73 sites in Tulsa County and 100 sites in rural eastern Oklahoma, feeding over 6,200 children. In 2013 the program expanded to include middle school, junior high and high school students.
In 2006 the Food Bank opened the Donald W. Reynolds Distribution Center. The 78,000 square-foot facility can store up to three million pounds of food at any one time. The warehouse has 2,080 dry pallet spaces and is outfitted with state-of-the-art coolers and freezers with 288 freezer pallet spaces and 288 refrigerator pallet spaces. It is also equipped with a 2,200 square-foot Culinary Center, one of the first industrial Food Bank kitchens in the country.
In 2010 the Mobile Pantry Program began by creating a farmer’s market style of distribution in underserved, rural food desert areas of our region. On December 14, 2011 the program distributed its one millionth pound of food.
In August 2012, the Food Bank opened a southern branch location in McAlester, Oklahoma. Located on North Main Street, the new branch serves Choctaw, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, McIntosh, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties and a total of 93 Partner Programs of the Food Bank. The 8,100 square-foot facility has 650 square-feet of combined cooler and freezer space along with the capacity to store 100,000 pounds of shelf-stable food. The McAlester branch also offers Partner Programs the opportunity to shop for perishable food such as meat, produce and bakery items.
Presently the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma serves more than 450 Partner Programs in eastern Oklahoma. Our Tulsa distribution center is located north of downtown Tulsa, near the Pine and North Peoria intersection. In Fiscal Year 2017 the Food Bank distributed more than 24.7 million pounds of food.