Justin Orcutt's goal of operating a nonprofit organization to help feed hungry people in the Tulsa area was about to be sidetracked by red tape.
As anyone who has ever tried to obtain nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service knows, the process can be long and labor intensive. Orcutt had dreamed of operating a free service that would pick up excess or donated food and deliver it to other organizations around town that feed the hungry, and he wanted to do it sooner rather than later. But he figured he needed to wait until all the kinks in his nonprofit application had been worked out before initiating such a project.
Then he had a conversation with Pastor Sean Moore, the kitchen supervisor at downtown's John 3:16 Mission at 506 N. Cheyenne Ave., that changed his mind.
"Man, people are hungry," Orcutt said Moore told him. "We'll work the kinks out later."
Orcutt figured he couldn't argue with the logic of that. So, in late October, he began operating You Need We Feed, his free pick-up and delivery service, as a charitable offshoot of the business he and his wife Lauren had launched over the summer called You Buy We Fly -- a personal delivery service that charges clients to pick up and deliver groceries, meals, dry cleaning, legal documents or other items. The Orcutts' drivers have now added donated food pickups to their routes and deliver the cargo to such institutions as the John 3:16 Mission, Iron Gate and The Dream Center.
"It's almost like a community action project," Justin Orcutt said, describing You Need We Feed. "We're just trying to make people realize how much food is wasted every day in this country. We want people to realize you can help do something about that if you just get together with your friends and have sandwich-making parties. So many people are going hungry right now, if you can contribute anything, it makes a difference."
Since launching You Need We Feed, Orcutt said the organization has received an outpouring of support from people in the community who want to help.
"They're offering time, resources, energy, trucks. We've got people who want to start food drives and individuals who want to do sack lunches," he said, citing the example of a woman in Owasso who heard about You Need We Feed and prepared 30 sack lunches at a cost of just 66 cents a bag. "Thirty people got to eat lunch that day that otherwise wouldn't have."
Orcutt is hoping area restaurants will sign up for the program and donate their leftover food, but he said their participation can be a hit-and-miss proposition.
"A lot of them are concerned about liability as the food is being transported from one sanitary environment to another," he said.
But Orcutt said his service has been designed to address those concerns and he anticipates having agreements worked out with at least two chains soon that will permit them to donate their excess food each night.
"Our initial intention was to do this with restaurants because we work so closely with them (through You Buy We Fly)," he said. "But who we've found to be more responsive is individuals. A lot of them just call us and clean out their cabinets."
And the response from the Orcutts' 10 drivers has been very positive, as well, he said.
Each You Buy We Fly driver has agreed to do a minimum number of free pickups and deliveries each day while they're out doing their paid work.
"I've got one driver, every time I talk to him, he's gotten another shipment of canned goods or a pack of paper plates or something," Orcutt said. "We're not asking them to go out of their way most of the time. Our business is centered on convenience for everyone involved."
With the holidays coming up, Orcutt is hoping more Tulsans will take note of what he's trying to accomplish and contribute whatever they can.
"It's such a simple concept: 'I've had this can of black-eyed peas in my cabinet for two New Year's now, and I'm not going to eat it,' " he said, describing the thought process for many donors. "Well, someone will."
Anyone who doubts the need for such a program need only look at the numbers to see the reality of the situation, Orcutt said. He is particularly alarmed by figures cited by feedingamerica.org that indicate that of the 350 billion pounds of perishable food produced in the United States each year, more than one-fourth -- 100 billion pounds -- winds up being thrown out before it can be consumed. The same organization cites the 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Food Security in the United States" report that tagged Oklahoma as seventh in the nation in the percentage of households living with food insecurity -- a term used to describe a situation in which occupants do not know where they will find their next meal.
Orcutt also said too many people believe it is only the homeless in this country who go hungry. That's simply untrue, he said.
"There are huge numbers of people in these programs who have to choose between keeping the lights on and food," he said. "And an awful lot of them have at least one adult in the household who works."
Orcutt's wife, a hairdresser, is trying to address some of the other needs of the less fortunate by conducting her own sock drive at work. She offers a discount for her clients for bringing in a package of socks and is planning a day next month when she'll provide free haircuts for low-income and homeless people.
"A lot of people have just hit a hard spot, and we figure if we can get them a meal, get them some nice clothes and get them a haircut, we're doing something," he said.
Anyone with extra food who wishes to donate to the program is asked to call You Need We Feed at 906-0063 or e-mail email@example.com, and a representative of the program will schedule a time to come by and pick it up. The food then will be delivered to someone who needs it.
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