A national report on the changing face of poverty is reflected in an increasing need for food and health care in Oklahoma City's suburbs.
A report by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says a majority of America's poor now live in the suburbs of its major metropolitan areas.
“The landscape of poverty has changed. But our perceptions and policies really haven't kept pace with that change,” Elizabeth Kneebone, a Brookings fellow, said Monday.
The number of poor residents in the Oklahoma City suburbs increased 41.9 percent between 2000 and 2011, Brookings' report said. From 2000 to 2010, the suburban population increased 14.4 percent.
The report said there were 206,601 poor residents in the metro area — urban and suburban — in 2011.
The urban poor still outnumbered the suburban poor, and the rate at which the number of poor residents in the city grew outpaced the growth of poor residents in the suburbs.
Still, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma is responding to a shift in need to the suburbs, said Rodney Bivens, the executive director.
The number of pounds of food distributed has increased 77 percent in the last four years in Edmond, 121 percent in Moore, 86 percent in Yukon, and 466 percent in Midwest City, he said.
The Food Bank has a “backpack” program to send food with elementary-age children as they go home from school on Fridays. School food pantries supply middle and high school students with food for after school, weekends and holidays.
Six years ago, none of those programs were in Edmond, Bivens said. Now the Food Bank has a backpack program in 11 Edmond elementary schools, and food pantries in six middle and high schools.
Needs are similar in other suburbs, he said: “That's true in Midwest City, Yukon and Moore.”
Pockets of poverty
Scott Burcher, chief administrative officer of Variety Care, which operates community health centers, said his organization finds pockets of poverty often are hidden in affluent areas.
Schools also are calling seeking primary medical care for students.
“That's another area where we see it popping up,” he said.
Seemingly small changes can make a significant difference, said Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to erasing childhood hunger.
In conjunction with the report's release, Shore said an initiative to provide breakfast to more schoolchildren at first ran into objections. It called for serving food in classrooms instead of cafeterias.
Serving breakfast in the cafeteria was a stigma for some children, and required them to arrive early, Shore said. The idea was to devote the first 10 minutes of the day to breakfast.
Once the change was made, teachers found it actually increased classroom instructional time “because every kid is in every seat on time.”
Meeting qualifications for government funding can be a chore, said speakers related to the Brookings' report, who urged greater flexibility matched by accountability for reaching goals for such things as meals served and patients treated.
Breaching those kinds of barriers often takes time, said Burcher, Variety Care's chief administrative officer in Oklahoma City.
“It can be a daunting process,” he said.