OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As families prepare to gather together for the holidays, many people are looking forward to spending time with their loved ones, opening presents, and indulging in hearty meals.
However, there are hundreds of other Oklahomans who aren’t celebrating with family. Instead, they are simply struggling to stay warm and find something to eat.
Last Christmas, those two worlds collided for Whitney Bates.
Bates was trying to figure out what to do with all of the leftovers that hadn’t been touched from her family’s holiday meal when she was struck by an idea.
“I told my boyfriend that I was going to go downtown and give leftovers to homeless people,” Bates told News 4.
She says that although she was born and raised in Oklahoma City, she wasn’t even sure where to go or if she’d be able to find anyone in need.
While she didn’t remember seeing homeless on every corner, it didn’t take her long to find them once she started looking.
“In less than five minutes, the meals were gone,” she said.
Bates says the experience ‘shook her to her core.’
“I had no idea about the need,” she said.
According to a recent census report, there are about 1,300 Oklahomans who are homeless right now. Officials say 200 of those are families with children and more than 100 are veterans.
After going home, Bates says she realized that something had suddenly changed for her, as if a spark had suddenly been ignited.
She says she felt a calling to do more than just give out leftovers on holidays.
“Something needs to be done,” Bates said.
Once she got back home, she got to work creating a GoFundMe account to raise money for a New Year’s meal for Oklahoma City’s homeless population.
Quicker than she could have imagined, the puzzle pieces started falling into place and she created the non-profit organization ‘Feed It Forward OKC’ to bring awareness to her cause.
During the first five-and-a-half months, Bates says she served 5,000 meals to the homeless.
While spending three to four hours in her kitchen at home to cook the meals once a week, Bates got the process down to a science.
“They get a meal, a paper bag with a snack, and a bottled water every time I go out,” Bates said.
Before she knew it, it was time to expand and that’s where the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City came in. The church allows Bates to use their kitchen, which is really when things began to pick up steam.
She says the organization was able to provide meals to those in need about four times a week, but has been forced to cut back to just once a week after donations in the summer started to slump.
“That’s when we really went dry,” she said.
Now that she has been providing food for the needy, Bates says she can’t imagine stopping now. Although funding has been a struggle, she knows that her mission is simply too important.
“I’m just super passionate about this,” Bates said.
That’s why she has started working toward obtaining a grant, which would provide a bit of steady funding for the organization
Looking back, Bates says that Christmas night set her life on a new path.
“It changed everything,” Bates said.
She left her job at OU Medical Center and is now back in school to earn her nonprofit certification.
“This is the first time I felt like this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Bates said.
This year, Feed It Forward OKC will host a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless at First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, located at 600 N.W. 13th St.
From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will be serving a fully prepared Thanksgiving meal and will also be delivering meals to those who were unable to attend the event.
Bates says she expects to serve anywhere from 200 to 300 people at the event.
Although they already have everything needed for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, Bates says people can always donate to help provide food throughout the rest of the year.
To learn more about the program or to donate, visit Feed It Forward OKC’s website.