Quartet of Oklahoma City anti-hunger leaders honored for good works

OKLAHOMA CITY – Local activists in the Malnutrition Coalition joined recently to honor four leaders in the state, national and international fight against human hunger.

Award winners included Yenni Vance, state Rep. Richard Morrissette and the Abbos, Joey and Amber.

Jaclyn Brink-Rosen moderated the luncheon honoring the four. She is the grand-daughter of Josephine Meade, a woman who fed desperately hungry “Okies” and others throughout the Great Depression. Meade is the inspiration of many who labor to combat human hunger in the Great Plains states. Brink-Rosen leads the local chapter of RESULTS, an international advancing policies to combar poverty and hunger.

The coalition’s 2014 World Community Award went to Mrs. Vance.

Yenni’s work for the poor, Brink-Rosen said, “exemplifies the spirit of brotherhood, motivated by a lack of bias, a sense of unity and the essence of brotherhood.”

A native of Columbia, Yenni and her mother have established a charity, 1040i, to address the needs of South American children and of those in Africa. The charity supports volunteer medical professionals as they provide surgeries to the poor; and support for water well digging, school construction and support of orphanages.

Yenni also serves on the board of directors for the NEEDS Foundation (the Abbos’ organization, also honored), an Oklahoma group working to end food waste “by redistributing unserved foods from restaurants, bakers and grocery stores to the poor.” Yenni and her husband, David, have worked with managers at the Remington Park ino in east Oklahoma City, to get daily leftovers to the needy.

In her brief remarks, Mrs. Vance said she was thrilled “to be in this perfect place, on this perfect day.” She noted there are an estimated 100,000 “food insecure” people living in Oklahoma City, and that many of them are children. Around the world, as many as 1 billion people have faced food insecurity and hunger. After years of work, that number has moderated, to around 750 million people, Brink-Rosen told CapitolBeatOK.

Yenni Vance also spoke about her life’s inspirations, including her mother. Here in Oklahoma, she described Brink-Rosen as JBR “an amazing lady in our city.” Vance spoke affectionately of her husband and his consistent support for her efforts in Oklahoma and in her native land.

The Josephine Meade Anti-Hunger Award went to state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.

During his year’s at the state Capitol, Morrisette’s legislative efforts have crossed the spectrum of pragmatic anti-hunger policy-making. Among other measures, he has advanced establishment of health and wellness assemblies at public schools, authorization for use of public buildings (including schools) for health-related activities, foundation of a food pantry for Metro-Tech students, and legal provisions supporting establishment of community gardens.

Morrissette’s most notable achievement in this arena may be passage of comprehensive legislation for which he secured nearly unanimous support in the Legislature. That law revised more than 4,000 provisions in state law; it allows for fresh produce and bakery good to be donated to senior nutrition sites, public schools, food pantries and shelters across the Sooner State.

In is remarks, Rep. Morrissette praised Brink-Rosen, who is his legislative assistant (shared with Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City). The son of parents who grew up during the Great Depression, Morrissette said that he was taught by nuns during his childhood, and “I was not always a model student.”

From the holy sisters and his upbringing, he said, “I learned about caring for those who do not have resources. My father assured, despite financial challenges, that we, his children, never went hungry.” As a boy, Morrissette remembers he saw “too many children going to school without breakfast.”

Morrissette describes himself as “a proud lawyer, and a proud politician.” He teaches students, such as guests from Capitol Hill High School who were present at the awards luncheon, that elected officials “are temporary occupants of their jobs. They must strive for humility, and remember children who are living in cars, who go to schools without food. … Our first duty is to care for children and the elderly.”

The Golden Bowl Recognition for 2014 went to Joey and Amber Abbo, co-founders of the NEEDS Foundation. The group works on pragmatic programs, Brink-Rosen said, “to pick up and redistribute perishable foods to the hungry.”

The Abbos’ work has led to establishment, in the metropolitan area, “of a network of volunteers who work shoulder to shoulder, tirelessly, 24 hours every day, picking up food that would otherwise go into landfills.” That food is delivered, free of charge, to hundreds of hungry people.

Rep. Morrissette’s House Bill 1418 addressed liability concerns and other issues to facilitate food distribution.

The World Food Day recognition was held last month at the Oklahoma state Supreme Court building in the state Capitol Complex on N. Lincoln Boulevard. Attendees included former Chief Justice Yvonne Kauger and Justices James Watt and James Edmondson. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Jerome Holmes also participated.

State Rep. Kay Floyd – stepping up to the Senate later this month – and Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel also joined to honor the awardees. Morrissette’s new Democratic colleague, incoming state Rep. Shane Stone of District 89, was also present.

Capitol Hill High students and their teacher were present, including Juanita Freeman, Luis Perez, Vincente Hipolito, Raquel Reid and Seth Reid, as well as Democratic Party activist Marilyn Rainwater. Additionally, many members of the United Nations Association supported the gathering.

World Food Day is held every year in October, on or near the day in 1945 when the United Nations set aside a day to support awareness of post-war reconstruction and maintenance of an effective worldwide agricultural infrastructure.

Editor’s Note: The author of this story supports the RESULTS anti-hunger group in Oklahoma City. He gratefully acknowledges the use of two photographs from Stuart Ostler of the Legislative Service Bureau.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at the State Capitol 405-601-3433