Earlier in her life, Eakly native Lori Flansburg was a chef at a prestigious restaurant. Although she was reaching professional goals, she felt unsettled. This led her to accept the executive director spot for the not-yet-opened nonprofit Weatherford Food and Resource Center in April 2016.
To prepare for the job, she dove into Custer County’s statistics and came across a staggering one: 22 percent of children in the region were food insecure. She wanted to change that.
“I started from scratch,” she says.
WFRC, located at 122 S. Eighth St. in Weatherford, now offers a client-choice shopping experience, providing fresh produce; non-perishable, refrigerated and frozen food; nutrition information and instruction; plus financial literacy classes; job application training; referrals and additional services. To shop there, clients must have an income limit at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
“During the pandemic, we’ve served more new clients than ever,” says Flansburg. “We’re operating by drive-through. The amount of food hasn’t changed. Volunteers are doing the shopping for clients, instead of clients coming into our market.”
Just to stay afloat, Flansburg fundraises a minimum of $250,000 annually. With ideas plucked from everywhere, she creates numerous community events to drum up support.
“We have amazing community support,” Flansburg explains. “I couldn’t do it without them.”
Twice monthly, she orders a truck of food from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, but WFRC has to pay for the food. The nonprofit’s affiliation with the food bank requires compliance with stringent standards, even down to pest control, USDA inspections and the state-of-the-art computer intake system. The modern, spic-and-span facility serves 12 western Oklahoma zip codes in at least five counties that have few resources for the food insecure, including the towns of Arapaho, Butler, Clinton, Colony, Corn, Hammon, Hydro and Weatherford. Last year, WFRC distributed 364,974 pounds of food.
Flansburg rents rooms to AA and Narcotics Anonymous, bringing in a bit of income and providing more resources. Another is the diabetes group that holds weekly meetings at that location. The lobby’s mini-kitchen is used for cooking lessons, health information and to hand out easy-to-make recipes and healthy food samples.
Now in her 30s, Flansburg is a forklift certified, proactive visionary with innovative solutions. And she minces no words; her goal is a full-resource center that is a one-stop shop for an array of needs. That goal is well on its way to being met. The staff found hearing aids for an out-of-work truck driver and got him behind the wheel again; they rounded up everything needed to create a home for a destitute mother and her three children; and they invested into a man who lost his income due to cancer and helped his family survive while he got back on his feet.
These days, Flansburg may be out laying hay at her parents’ farm, but most of the time, she’s burning rubber for WFRC.
“I love the feeling when clients are blown away that they get the dignity of choosing their own food from our market,” she says. “We check in on volunteers and clients if they need extra attention. I know my spiritual gift is hospitality through food. It’s my calling. I’m not sure what God has planned for me next. I hope it’s not fundraising … but I’ll do it if that’s what He wants me to do.”