For over 20 years, Restore Hope Ministries in Tulsa has provided Thanksgiving baskets for families in need during the holiday season. These baskets normally include a turkey and a variety of canned goods to provide a special Thanksgiving meal and more. Thousands of families in need have received these baskets.
This year, the United Methodist-affiliated agency partnered with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to provide something special in the baskets that hundreds of families received Wednesday morning (Nov. 23).
“In years past, we’ve provided potatoes in one form or another,” said Rev. Jeff Jaynes, executive director at Restore Hope Ministries. “We’ve given instant mashed potatoes in boxes, and we usually provide bags of potatoes. But this year we wanted to try something new, so we called the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma with an idea.”
That idea was to use the Community Food Bank’s “Value-Added Processing Program” to provide frozen mashed potatoes for the families receiving Restore Hope’s Thanksgiving baskets. The program is led by Chef Jonathan Haring, the Food Bank’s director of Culinary Services, who transforms a variety of ingredients into excellent food available to the member agencies of the Food Bank. Haring, who was catering chef at the Nordstrom corporate office in Seattle, brings that same skill level to providing food for those who are in need.
Sara Waggoner, executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, said that they planned for partnerships like this years ago.
“When we built our new facility, we built a commercial kitchen knowing we would have the opportunity to extend the life of produce and feed more people,” Waggoner said. “Without this kitchen, we were forced to throw away 30 percent of donated produce because of its short shelf-life. Now with our kitchen, the Food Bank is able to reduce the amount of produce being discarded to only 5 percent.
“We are delighted that Restore Hope could use this fresh produce and feed over 700 families during this holiday season.”
Local churches also connect with Restore Hope Ministries for their Thanksgiving programs. Dick Garwood, a member of Restore Hope’s Board of Directors, is also a member at New Haven United Methodist in Tulsa. New Haven started a “Mountain of Food” program at that church eight years ago.
“It has grown from a donation of less than 4,000 pounds to over 17,000 pounds this year,” Garwood said. “No matter how bad the economy has been, our church has increased our giving to this program every year—knowing how much it is needed.”
Jaynes credits these partnerships and donations from individuals across the area for the success of Restore Hope’s Thanksgiving program.
“We simply could not provide our Thanksgiving baskets without the help of our partners,” Jaynes said. “Even though the mashed potatoes we will provide this year are professionally made, it still represents a cost savings from buying regular potatoes. This way we can provide better quality and still save money—an important savings given the rise of food prices this year—and a great gift to our client families.”
Jaynes reports that the average cost to provide a basket rose this year to approximately $30, up from $25 in previous years. “We are able to find deals, but it is only thanks to these partnerships that we can keep it that low. Without them, our costs would nearly double. We want to help as many families as we can, and these great partners make that possible.”
The families that receive Thanksgiving baskets may never know how their basket came together. But, thanks to a number of partners and donors from across the city, an extra helping of grace will come to their kitchens this year.