Stamp Out Starvation
Cherokee, Oklahoma-based program helps to feed children in need
Monte Stewart explained that his name sounds like the word for “liar” in their language. “When I tell them my name they laugh,” he said, “but it makes them remember me.” Courtesy photo
On a mild, yet overcast winter Friday, Monte Stewart sat in his truck, explaining his journey that began with a mission trip to Africa in 2003 and continues with his current full-time passion. As the founder and director of Stamp Out Starvation, a nonprofit centered in Northwest Oklahoma, Stewart and his organization are dedicated to providing filling and nutritious meals to those in need—both close to home and across the globe.
He had spent his morning with about 90 school children in Enid, Oklahoma, who had volunteered to help package the meals his organization provides. In about three hours they had packaged 31,536 meals.
“They seem to enjoy it,” Stewart said of the kids and their volunteer work. “They understand the need for it.”
They understand because he talks to them about why they are packaging the food before they start their work, showing photos so they can see those whom they are helping. He often relays stories about his travels to locations where his organization helps to feed populations in need.
Shortly after the trip in ’03 that spurred Stewart and his wife Shelly’s desire to do something big to combat the poverty, starvation and food insecurity they witnessed, the couple began working with an already-established organization, Kids Against Hunger. However, by 2012, the Stewarts had their own plans.
“We felt like we could feed more kids cheaper and easier,” he said.
So, they amicably parted from Kids Against Hunger and started Stamp Out Starvation (SOS).
Having grown up in a Northwest Oklahoma farming community, specifically the tiny town of Amorita, his background in farming and construction would come in handy in multiple ways during his efforts to build and grow SOS. Though the nonprofit has shipped food to 14 countries, most recently, the majority of Stewart’s efforts have been spent on Haiti. He estimates he has been to Haiti about 17 times—going two or three times a year and staying 10 to 12 days at a time.
On these trips Stewart stays at a clinic on the grounds of one of the schools where SOS food supplies are being used. He visits the kids going to school and said he spends his days helping with whatever they need, which might include putting his construction background to work building tables and desks, but always includes checking up on how the food program is functioning. He checks in on those receiving the food to make sure the process is efficient and to see if anything can be improved.
“Monte is in his element with those kids in Haiti,” said Robyn Turney, communication specialist for Alfalfa Electric Cooperative, who has known the Stewart family as co-op members for many years.
“He’s a perfect example of a co-op member and what we stand for. He’s about helping others and doing things together for the good of the group,” Turney said.
Although Stewart travels with a mobile food-packaging unit to many volunteer sites in the region, volunteers can also go to the SOS main office in Cherokee to help package the basic rice and soy-based meals. Each food package is fortified with 21 essential vitamins and minerals, six dehydrated vegetables, and chicken flavoring; the protein and nutrient-rich formula reverses the starvation process, according to the SOS website.
Madison Wilson, a junior history major and theatre minor at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, has volunteered for SOS three times with her sorority, the Gamma Gamma Chapter of Alpha Sigma Alpha.
Wilson described how Stewart told the sorority volunteers about his trips to Haiti as they worked and showed them slide shows of his experiences.
“He’s feeding a ton of kids,” Wilson said. “The work is fun and goes by quickly—it’s team work. You are part of something bigger than yourself. You are feeding kids who might not otherwise have access to a free, hearty meal.
In a more recent endeavor, Stewart has started what he refers to as “the wheat program,” which has allowed him to expand the amount of food SOS can provide. Farmers can donate wheat, and with the help of the farming co-ops, that wheat can be moved around where it needs to be for SOS to make use of it.
“When you think about the big picture of all the farmers, if everyone donated 10 bushels a piece we could feed so many people it would blow your mind,” he said.
He said he hopes the wheat program will really grow over the next year and wanted farmers to know he can take donations of other crops as well.
“If they donate something else we can’t use to make food, we can sell that to buy more wheat,” he explained.
Many would describe what Stewart does as a sacrifice, and that giving mentality seems to be steeped in his family. His wife, Shelly, spends time rescuing injured wild animals and being a full-time caretaker to their grandson, who has special needs. But Stewart said he does not call his work a sacrifice, rather he described it as simply putting in a little effort.
“We take so much for granted and the people there in Haiti are so happy and friendly and loving with so little. We have been blessed enough that we can help them,” Stewart said.