- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across Oklahoma are scrambling to meet demand for food from, among other groups, kids left in the lurch because they can’t get the free and discounted meals offered when schools are in session, several agency workers said this week.

Supplies of protein-rich items like meat and dairy are particularly in high demand during the summer months - a period when donations to food banks and related agencies tend to dip and needier families are forced to deal with spikes in season-related expenses, such as higher utility bills. Often, that means going without food.

“Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation,” said Meghann Ray, a spokeswoman for Iron Gate, a soup kitchen and food pantry in downtown Tulsa. “We are seeing more people - the working poor, the homeless, families with kids because school isn’t in session.

“(More) people are coming because it’s summer, and money gets tighter,” she said.

This week, the agency served a record 600-plus people at its soup kitchen on one day alone, Ray said. Iron Gate’s pantry distributes food to adults and stuffs quart-size baggies with nutritious items for kids to take home.

The needs of homeless and others who are down on their luck are the same no matter the size of the city.

Eagle Heights Christian Center near Henryetta is struggling to keep meats, fresh vegetables and bread on shelves. Pastor Don Frankum said he’s noticed an uptick of demand from the “new poor” - people who just lost jobs and find themselves suddenly unable to make ends meet.

“We treat everybody the same,” Frankum said. “Even if they pull in with a Lexus, they still need food.”

At Jesus House in Oklahoma City, the needs are meats, bottled water, canned goods and items like macaroni - “stuff that can stretch,” said Mike Bateman, the operations manager.

“We see more families coming in due to kids being out of school,” he said. “In school, they might get one or two meals a day.”

Agency officials across Oklahoma say residents can help by buying one or two extra cans of vegetables or an extra pallet of bottled water while at the grocery store and dropping them off at local pantries.

“A lot of folks are in situations like (paying) cooling bills from a very limited pot of money,” said Eileen Bradshaw, executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. “A lot of seniors are choosing between paying for medicine (and food) or utility bills.”

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