Katie Fitzgerald has dedicated her life to helping the most vulnerable people in society. Her resume includes stints at Make-a-Wish Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, the Center for Children and Families in Norman and the United Way of Greater Battle Creek, Michigan. We caught up with Fitzgerald, CEO of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma since 2016, and got her thoughts on …
… what inspires her.
My early experiences showed me how short and unfair life can be for far too many people, and often, for reasons beyond their control. I have also learned that there is a lot we can do to help one another. I am simply trying to do my part, and I’ve found the nonprofit sector to be a valuable vehicle for bringing focus, flexibility and creativity to the problems we face.
… the food bank’s clientele.
The people served … are as diverse as we are as Oklahomans. We serve chronically hungry children living in poverty, seniors living on fixed incomes and hardworking families struggling to make ends meet. I recently met a college student needing food assistance so he could pay his tuition. I witnessed a retired couple visit a pantry for the first time because of a new medication their insurance wouldn’t cover. Every day, we meet parents whose wages are too low to buy groceries at the end of the month.
Many of us are one disaster or disruption away from needing food assistance. A sudden job loss, illness or car repair is the difference between those of us who can purchase food and those of us who have to cut food out of the budget just to keep the lights on and the rent paid. The [recent] government shutdown was a painful reminder of this reality – a reality in which most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. The painful truth is that this is not just about bad budgeting on the part of people in need. Stagnant wages, coupled with the increased costs of education and health care, have contributed to a high level of economic insecurity for many Oklahomans.
… how to help.
We have incredibly generous donors who provide over 70 percent of our annual budget. Donations have, however, remained relatively flat over the past five years, and our problem is that the cost of procuring and distributing food continues to out-pace donations, and we are not yet effectively meeting all the food insecurity needs throughout the 53 counties we serve. We are working hard to solve this problem by optimizing our efficiency and creatively containing costs, but we are always looking for new donors who want to join the fight against hunger. Another great way to help is to volunteer. One-fifth of all the food we distribute must be sorted and packed by volunteers. In 2018, we saved over $3.4 million because of our 42,000 volunteers. Sign up for a volunteer shift at rfbo.org.
… poverty in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma remains one of the poorest and hungriest states in the nation. Poverty is complex and multi-faceted and so are the solutions – too complex to itemize here. I will, however, offer this: Often in our debates about the “best” solutions to poverty, we lose sight of the most important prerequisite for any solution to poverty, which is love and compassion for those we seek to help. We need to remind ourselves, daily, that a different set of circumstances could have just as easily put us in the position of needing help.