When you ask folks who have never been to Oklahoma, or met an Oklahoman, what comes  to mind in connection with the State, you are likely to get responses the refer to the Dust Bowl, Sooners or John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. But historians David Baird and Danny Goble describe it otherwise. They write “The shared experiences of Oklahoma’s people over time speak of optimism, innovation, perseverance, entrepreneurialism, common sense, collective courage, and simple decency.” From what NFESH knows from our longtime interactions with Oklahomans, we could not agree more. And many of those core values — like innovation, entrepreneurialism, common sense and even optimism – stand at the center of our What A Waste initiative. That’s one of the reasons that we are so delighted to be able to announce that Oklahoma is the first western state to engage NFESH in a statewide What A Waste initiative.wheat-2488215_640

Beginning this month, senior nutrition programs in the towns of Sallisaw, Okemah, Henryetta, Duncan and Marlow will be introduced to What A Waste. Menus from these sites are already being entered by NFESH into our proprietary software program, the Waste Terminator, so that waste data can later be entered there and we can conduct waste and nutrition analyses and audits. Later this month Matt Levine will travel to Oklahoma to provide in-person, hands-on instruction to staff who will be responsible of implementing What A Waste at their programs.

From the time that he heard about the success our What A Waste projects were having, Oklahoma’s then-Director of Aging Services Lance Robertson wanted to bring What A Waste to his State. Ensuring that it happened was one of his last acts as a leader in Oklahoma government. But his vision was bigger than that. Even then, the now Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration for Community Living at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services was urging his colleagues throughout the country to get on board.

In a letter to a number of then Oklahoma Director of Aging Services wrote: “As the leaders responsible for a large portfolio of aging policies and programs in our States, we are also accountable for seeking new and innovative solutions to the old and persistent problems. For me, in the current environment, that means looking for analytics-based and fact-driven initiatives and solutions that we can implement—initiatives that have been proven successful in identifying concrete ways that we can optimize current resources. Those ‘ways’ can assist us in improving and expanding vital programs, like nutrition services for seniors.

I have identified one such analytics-based and fact-driven initiative. It is a project developed by my friends at the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) called What A Waste®. Here in Oklahoma we have included the implementation of What A Waste® statewide model projects in our Oklahoma State Plan for FY 2017.”

We saw Assistant Secretary Robertson in Washington in his new position at an event last month. The first question he asked us was about the progress of What A Waste back in his home state. He is a man who exemplifies and values the qualities that Baird and Goble recognized: optimism, innovation, perseverance, entrepreneurialism, common sense, collective courage, and simple decency.

Optimism? Yes. Lance Robertson believes What A Waste can make a positive difference in the fight against senior hunger. He wrote that to his colleagues: “Ideally, I would love to see all of our State Units on Aging take on this project to show we mean business when it comes to ending senior hunger in our states. The fact of the matter is that the numbers of seniors in our states facing the threat of hunger is rising. It is up to us to put our collective heads and hearts together to solve this. I believe that NFESH can help us do this. I believe it so much that I am asking you to join me in this effort and to implement What A Waste® in your State as a first collective step in responding to our clarion call to end senior hunger.”

We are optimistic about our work in Sallisaw, Okemah, Henryetta, Duncan and Marlow because we have seen the positive results in every senior nutrition program across the country where What A Waste has been implemented.

We are looking forward to working in your State, Mr. Secretary. Oklahoma, here we come!