When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints heard that a local organization needed protein to fill backpacks for hungry children, they launched an effort to make it happen.
Since then, the church, through its Mormon-owned cattle ranch in Pawhuska, has committed enough grass-fed cows — 52 — to supply the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma's Food for Kids Backpack program for a year.
“This is what it's all about,” said Mike Justesen, manager of the ranch.
“Getting this good, healthy meat to feed hungry folks, it just doesn't get any better.”
The cattle are delivered to Chickasha Meats, where owner Bert Builtenhuis processes, debones and freezes the beef for processing into beef sticks at Ralph's in Perkins.
The Regional Food Bank distributes the beef sticks to the Backpack Program, which puts food into backpacks that children carry home over the weekend.
When the Regional Food Bank started the Backpack Program 10 years ago, organizers wanted to include a good source of high-quality protein that needed no refrigeration. Children who struggle with hunger receive a backpack full of ready to eat and nutritious food to tide them over weekends and school holidays.
As an extension of that, the related Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs help provide children with the protein they need for growth and development.
Donated pork and beef are made into meat and pork sticks, like those you find on a convenience store counter, said Angie Gaines, food bank director of marketing and communications.
Donations have diminished, Gaines said.
Needs of program
The Regional Food Bank needs about 800 pounds of lean beef a week, but beef and pork donations became so occasional that the food bank began to wonder if it was even sustainable, Gaines explained.
Kelly Batt, a public affairs specialist from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, heard about the food bank's needs, and the church went into action with the donated beef.
“The food bank is trying to provide food for hungry people in this region, but they also fight the realities of changing markets, economies and resources. I knew we wanted to be involved,” she said.
Bert Builtenhuis, owner of Chickasha Meats said that he had been involved in a “Beef for Battle” program that processed donated beef and pork into beef sticks to send to military troops overseas.
“But when so many of them came home, the demand went away. We offered the meat sticks to the food bank and they were thrilled, of course,” he said.
Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs are a collaboration among the Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Beef Council, Oklahoma State University Food and Agricultural Products Center, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Ralph's Meat Co. in Perkins and Chickasha Meats.
Beth M. Stephenson is a communications assistant for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.