Letter carriers’ food drive will send help to the hungry

May. 3, 2010

Paper or plastic? U.S. Postal Service workers hope you will choose the latter.

Letter carriers from Oklahoma City and more than 40 cities in the state will collect nonperishable food donations as they deliver mail Saturday.

The “Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive” benefits Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma receive food from the charity.

Residents can place plastic bags of food next to their mailbox. Letter carriers are delivering plastic bags but residents may use their own.

Saturday will be the toughest day of the year for letter carriers, said letter carrier Steve Riggs. Letter carriers will deliver mail, but also pick up food.

“Letter carriers through the course of delivering the mail all year long, we see the actual face of hunger. Because we’re on every street in every city every day,” said Riggs. “This is just one other way we give back to the community. We’re proud of the fact that we can help.”

Last year, Oklahoma City letter carriers collected about 684,000 pounds of food and nearly $586,000. Letter carriers nationwide collected a record 73.4 million pounds.

Food banks need nonperishable items, such as canned meats, meat-based soups, canned fruits, canned vegetables, peanut butter, rice and beans. They will not accept opened packages, baby food, glass containers or home-canned items.

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Sunday, May 2.


City schools are preparing for millions in renovations

May. 3, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY — Renovations at seven Oklahoma City schools will begin this year as the multiyear MAPS for Kids initiative continues.

Construction costs in 2010 are expected to be $54.5 million, a school district status report shows.

Four high schools — Capitol Hill, Classen School of Advanced Studies, Northwest Classen and Southeast — and Eugene Field Elementary School will be renovated. Classrooms will be added to Linwood and Thelma R. Parks elementary schools.

Terry Wolfe, facilities manager with the school district, offered a blunt assessment about the physical condition of some of the schools.

“Our buildings are very old. We have not had a significant investment that has brought them up to being ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” Wolfe said. “The end result should be an extended life for our buildings.”

The final 20 projects are scheduled to begin in 2011 and be completed in 2012, he said.

The seven schools scheduled for work this year aren’t being rebuilt completely, Wolfe said, but the buildings will be brought up to date and have the same features as new schools and classrooms.

Wolfe said newer electronic equipment in classrooms requires more electricity than some schools were built to provide.

“Mechanical systems weren’t designed to keep up with equipment found in some of today’s classrooms,” he said.

Not all renovations will be as complex as replacing mechanical systems.

Some will be as simple as new bathroom fixtures, paint, floors and ceilings.

“The general appearance of our schools will be first-rate,” Wolfe said.

Linwood Principal Susan Combs said it’s important to keep students aware of what to expect while the school is being renovated and eight classrooms are added.

“There will be noises. There will be distractions. Keeping that focus on learning and how important that is, we have that instilled here,” she said.

Nearly 400 students attend Linwood.

In addition to more classrooms, a new media center and administrative offices will be built. Construction was to start this month.

“We are extremely excited because our area has grown so much population-wise,” Combs said. “We are at higher student numbers than we have ever been, and we’re crowded. It will be a long process, but the end result will be phenomenal for all of us.”

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Sunday, April 25.

Campaign aims to ensure safety roadway crews

Apr. 17, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY — Safety and transportation officials took time Friday to remind motorists to be aware of crews working along roadways.

“These workers are out there working on projects to make our highways safer. The workers are your friends, they’re your neighbors, they’re the parents of your children’s classmates,” said Ivan Marrero, assistant division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Oklahoma Division.

“Let’s make sure we remember that we have a responsibility out there as drivers to make sure that as we enter a work zone we slow down and we pay attention to what we’re doing. Let’s make sure work zones are given the attention they need.”

Marrero spoke at a news conference announcing National Work Zone Awareness week, which begins Monday.

17 died in 2009
In the past three years, 49 people died and 2,118 were injured as a result of crashes in Oklahoma highway work zones, the state Transportation Department reported.

The 1,278 accidents in Oklahoma work zones last year killed 17 people and injured 767, Oklahoma officials said.

That is a 55 percent increase in work zone fatalities from 2008 and the third most work zone deaths in 10 years.

Nationwide, work zone fatalities decreased 13 percent from 2007 to 2008, the last year complete statistics are available.

Bobby Stem, executive director of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors, stressed the importance of highway work zone safety.

Stem said the only protection between a vehicle and a roadway worker is a brightly colored vest and cone or barrel.

“If you can think of those lives involved in the work zone, it’s worth it slowing down a little bit,” Stem said.

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Saturday, April 17.

Donated stuffed animals are tools for paramedics

Apr. 17, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY — Children can use stuffed animals to comfort themselves when they’re scared. The toys also are valuable to paramedics, who use them as diagnostic tools.

Tuesday, two dozen prekindergarten students from New Hope United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City donated about 60 stuffed animals to the Emergency Medical Services Authority. The furry toys will be kept on ambulances and used at emergency scenes.

Paramedics use the animals to calm a child who is injured, scared or traumatized, EMSA spokeswoman Lara O’Leary said. More importantly, the toys can help children communicate their injuries.

“A lot of times at car crashes or scenes where children are scared, they are unable to talk. With the animals, paramedics will have the children point on the animal where they are hurting,” O’Leary said.

“Children who are scared need something to cling to, and to have these on the truck is invaluable to us. We absolutely have to have them. What we will do with them will possibly save lives,” she said.

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Thursday, April 9.

Wellness Now plan targets Oklahoma County for healthy changes

Apr. 2, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY — Some Oklahoma County residents who have heard about numerous community health improvement plans may be skeptical of a recently announced health initiative.

Still, it’s a worthwhile plan that could save lives, lower health insurance premiums and increase economic development, said Gary Cox, Oklahoma City-County Health Department director.

Wellness Now is a coordinated effort to bring together businesses, faith-based and neighborhood groups, school officials, legislators, agencies and residents to improve Oklahomans’ health in certain areas of the county.

A steering committee, led by Mayor Mick Cornett and Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn, will work on long-term solutions. Cox said he hopes to have the committee organized within 30 days.

“If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” Vaughn said during Thursday’s campaign launch. “We’ve got to do better on the preventative end because the medical care side is becoming too expensive.”

Cox said Wellness Now will concentrate on areas that can “move the needle on health.”

“Those things are going to be related to the big three — tobacco, diet and physical activity,” he said.

Cox wants one-, three- and five-year plans to be included in the initiative.

“There’s a sense of urgency. We want to move as quickly as we can,” he said.

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Friday, April 2.

Store owner Nikki Graves hopes to fit shoppers’ sizes, budgets

Apr. 2, 2010

EDMOND, Okla. — Nikki Graves dreamed of owning a children’s clothing store since she was a little girl. The dream turned into a reality last month with the opening of Ladybugs and Lizards children’s boutique.

“We are very distinct, very different from anything else in Oklahoma,” Graves said. “We have traveled to New York, Atlanta, Europe. We have traveled all around to bring quality things back to Oklahoma that you won’t find anywhere else in the state.”

The store focuses on upscale children’s clothing, for newborns to size 12 for girls and size 10 for boys. Also sold are blankets, books, dolls, hair accessories, shoes and stuffed animals.

“Our goal was to make this a one-stop shop that you could come and not only buy clothes,” said Graves, who co-owns the business with her mother. “We’re not only upscale. We have something for everybody. There’s something in here for someone that just wants to spend $20 or someone that wants to spend $400.”

Children often quickly outgrow their clothes, making some shoppers leery of buying upscale clothes.

Graves tries to ease such concerns.

“A lot of our upscale stuff is European, and it runs bigger (in size) or it has adjustable straps to where it can last longer,” she said. “A lot of people are liking that because they can buy it now and still wear it next year because the straps will adjust.”

Graves already has mapped out how she would like to expand the business.

Those plans include expanding the store’s size, selling merchandise via a Web site and designing a clothing line.

Ladybugs and Lizards is in the Spring Creek Village shopping center.

Ballenger’s Furniture anchored the shopping center since it was built in 2005, but owner Charles Ballenger said he was able to lease the space and has since moved back to his store’s original site on N May Avenue in Oklahoma City.

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Tuesday, March 30.

Shelter launches program to help panhandlers, homeless

Mar. 13, 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY — Homeless people and panhandlers can get a free ride to City Rescue Mission and help obtaining free food, shelter and clothes through a program that kicked off this week.

City Rescue Mission’s “Compassion Card” gives people an alternative to giving money to those asking for help. It is designed to prevent panhandlers from pocketing money they don’t need or spending it on drugs and alcohol, said Tom Jones, president of City Rescue Mission.

Recipients can call a toll-free phone number printed on the card for free transportation to the mission, where they can receive food, shelter and access to medical and dental clinics.

“Compassion Cards” can be printed from the shelter’s Web site, http://www.cityrescue.org.

Jone said City Rescue Mission picked up its first client who used the “Compassion Card” on Monday.

The man was just released from prison and sought help from a church, Jones said. A church pastor called the shelter and the man was taken there where he ate a meal, visited with a nurse and received clothes.

“The success of this program will be how many people in the community download these cards and pass them out,” Jones said. “This lets every citizen in the Oklahoma City area to have a vehicle to be able to actively participate in getting solutions to people that need help.”

The Homeless Alliance has a similar voucher program.

“Real Change, Not Spare Change” is designed to give panhandlers a free bus ride to a shelter and a meal instead of cash. Books of five “Real Change” tickets are sold for $5. The books include information on panhandling, including tips to help people deal with those who ask them for money.

For more information, go to http://www.homelessalliance.org.

This story, written by Brian Sargent, was published in The Oklahoman on Saturday, March 13.