Guest Blog (Connie Cronley): Feeding the hungry, tearing down gates

Editor’s note: Over the past eight months it has been my privilege to spend one hour a week doing food prep at Iron Gate, one of Tulsa’s largest and most active food assistance programs. I invited Connie Cronley,  Iron Gate’s Executive Director, to discuss their work.

Iron Gate is a soup kitchen and food pantry in downtown Tulsa. It was started 26 years ago by parishioners of Trinity Episcopal Church who made sandwiches for the downtown homeless. The food was handed out in the church’s cloister garden which had a decorative iron gate.

The word quickly spread: If you’re hungry, go to the church with the iron gate. The name stuck.

The organization is still located in the basement of Trinity, but it has grown into a separate 501 ( c ) (3) nonprofit organization.

Our mission is simple: We feed people.

We feed anyone who comes to us, which indicates they are hungry. We have no identification requirements; we offer no educational or religious programs. We serve a hot, nutritious meal 8:30-10:30 a.m. every day of the year (10 a.m. on weekends and holidays.) We distribute grocery bags every week.

Last year 146,000 people came through our soup kitchen line. Last year, we distributed 5,200 grocery bags.

We call the people who eat with us our guests, because we invite them. Our philosophy is that we are all guests on this earth and that guests treat one another with courtesy, kindness and respect. We work to make sure that Iron Gate’s dining room is a friendly and welcoming place where guests can relax, visit with one another and escape the pressures awaiting them outside.

Our mission is simple: We feed people. Sadly, it’s a big job getting bigger.

  • Last week, we served 2,813 people.
  • Yesterday, we served more than 500. (Mid month, our numbers increase as people run out of food stamps and/or their monthly disability checks.)
  • Now that school is out, we have more children coming to eat with us.
  • In this depressed economy, we continue to see more families with children—often newly unemployed families. Sometimes, recently evicted families—young couples squatting in abandoned buildings, women and children staying in shelters.

Luckily, food help has arrived for the summer.

As reported in the Tulsa World, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma has received a $2 million federal grant for supplemental food boxes for families. Iron Gate is one of the recipients.

Every week through September we will receive 100 food boxes and 50 household boxes (soap, toilet paper, etc). The guidelines are that these boxes are to augment the emergency grocery bags we already distribute and that the boxes go only to families with children. We began distributing the boxes June 18.

One of Iron Gate’s new initiatives is to get more food to kids. We have received grants to start a Kids’ Pantry at Iron Gate that is stocked with kid-friendly food. Every child who comes to eat with us receives a plastic bag of kid snacks and a small grocery bag of kid-friendly food.

We changed our grocery distribution schedule from once a week (Fridays) to twice a week (Fridays and Saturdays) so we can be more accessible for working parents.

We distributed fliers about this distribution schedule and the supplemental food boxes to Emergency Infant Services, Catholic Charities, Indian Health Care Resource Center, Veterans Association, Baptist Caring Center, HOPE and the Salvation Army.

Because of these efforts, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of families with children coming to get the food available for them.

The supplemental food box project dovetails perfectly with our interests in getting more food to families in need (especially families with small children) and collaborating with other social service agencies.

Iron Gate’s kitchen is known for producing delicious food. Come see for yourself. Stop by some morning and eat with us.

Disclaimer: The opinions stated above are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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