Pay it Forward urges students to use extra meal swipes to help feed the homeless.
Plenty of Tulsans cross paths with homeless people or are at least aware of their existence around town, but few do anything about it. Pay it Forward is a group of students who are encouraging their peers to donate their leftover meals near the end of each week. They take these meals to nearby locations and hand-deliver them to homeless people. I spoke with Carter Bradford, a junior here at TU, about this new program on campus. The program’s purpose is to benefit the disadvantaged in Tulsa while reducing TU’s food waste. He explained that it began when a friend of his mentioned that he took leftover meals from his own meal plan at the end of the week to people in need around town.
Together, he and his friend took around five to 10 meals to homeless people. These numbers grew. Bradford said, “We got 25 to 30 meals to take downtown. Why not get the whole campus involved?” To do so, Bradford placed a sign-up sheet next to the register in the C-Store at the Student Union and asked customers if they had a cafeteria meal plan. Knowing that most students rarely use all of their swipes in their meal plans, he asked people if they would like to donate their unused meals to homeless people in town instead of letting so much food go to waste.
In his own efforts on campus prior to the creation of Pay it Forward, Bradford claimed that, “Most homeless people are still working, they just don’t have a home. They’re good people.” While some may battle alcohol and substance abuse, this does not disqualify them from receiving help. For example, Bradford met a person who works as security for the BOK center, but lives in a tent. Bradford’s local observations match national statistics. On average nationwide, 44 percent of homeless people are employed. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that Oklahoma as a whole sees around 10 to 11 homeless people per 10,000. This is a higher ratio than that of Texas and Arkansas. Families make up 79 percent of these numbers. According to The Tulsa Salvation Army, around 800 people are on the streets in Tulsa per night. Some areas of Tulsa where there are higher concentrations of homeless people, such as the QuikTrip on Admiral Street and downtown, are not far from TU’s campus.
Pay it Forward has partnered with other efforts in Tulsa to provide food for homeless people, such as the Healthy Community Store Initiative. This organization’s leader, Katie Plohocky, takes buses of food with multiple options to poor communities. Along with Plohocky, Pay it Forward is working hand-in-hand with TU’s Dining Services and Sodexo general manager Mike Neal. He allowed Pay it Forward to put the sign-up sheet in the C-Store and has even helped package the meals to send out, as has Dining Services.
Students from Pay it Forward deliver the meals to locations around Tulsa on Thursdays or Fridays each week. Last week, their goal was to reach 100 meal donations for delivery on Friday; they gathered 117. Going forward, this program aims to continue to reach 100 meals per week. They will also continue to encourage more students to get involved, but this is not limited to donating unused meal swipes. Pay it Forward is looking for more volunteers for the transportation of the meals at the end of each week. Follow this program on Instagram at @payitforwardtu.