Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is trying to make up for a 46 percent drop — or about 2.5 million fewer meals — in the USDA commodities it receives to prepare for an increase in demand for food when children are out of school for the summer. Rubber ducks are going to help.
“Last year we distributed roughly 22 million meals across the 23 parishes we serve,” says Leslie Doles, communications and public relations director at Second Harvest. “In the area we serve, about half the population is in poverty. While people think of the food bank during the holidays, we have a real need in the summer. You see a lot of people struggling to make sure their kids are fed during the summer when they aren’t in school.”
To optimize its ability to serve more hungry people, Second Harvest is using two refrigerated trucks recently donated by Walmart as mobile pantries, and it has several events planned to raise money and increase food collections. One event is a rubber duck race on Bayou St. John during Bayou Boogaloo (May 20), for which the group hopes to "adopt out" 15,000 rubber ducks. (See details below the jump.)
Doles says the number of people in south Louisiana who don’t have enough to eat doesn’t necessarily correlate to unemployment rates in the area. Hunger rates are increasing across America even among working classes who find their paychecks don’t stretch far enough. According to the USDA report “Household Food Security in the United States in 2010, “4.8 percent of all households (a total of 5.6 million) in the America received emergency food at least once in 2010. The report also says 48.8 million Americans — including 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children — were at risk for not having enough to eat.
“It’s the new face of hunger — people who are working but just can’t make it to the end of the month,” Doles says. “They are the new underemployed.”
In Louisiana, Second Harvest serves 263,000 different people a year, including 82,000 children and 40,000 seniors, Doles says. Normally the food bank has about 2 million pounds of food in its warehouse at any given time, but now that amount is down to an average 1.2 million pounds.
Food banks traditionally are the primary recipients of USDA commodities such as cheese, canned vegetables, stew and peanut butter, Doles says. “This fiscal year (which ends June 30), there was a 46 percent decrease in commodities coming into the food banks, she says. “We’re down a half-million jars of peanut butter we usually get from the USDA. It sounds like a small thing, but [peanut butter is] a good nutritional staple for kids and seniors.”
Doles says Second Harvest, which is affiliated with the national group Feeding America, is trying to fill the gaps with fresh meat and produce as well as cooked meals from its community kitchen, a 6,500-square-foot cooking and education area at its 200,000-square-foot warehouse in Elmwood.
Walmart this week donated 30 trucks to food banks across the United States, including two to Second Harvest.
“It’s critical to our ability to get the food out,” Doles says. “The nature of the food (donated) at the food bank is changing. More perishable donated food items are coming through our facility, instead of the traditional canned items people associate with the food bank.”
Through partnerships forged by the Feeding America network, Doles says Second Harvest receives a trailer load of produce every week, usually from California, things like potatoes, carrots, cabbage, fruits and onions. The food bank also picks up milk, meats, breads and other perishable goods from retail stores as those items are nearing their freshness date.
Doles says at the warehouse, Second Harvest volunteers can freeze meats (it has 20,000-square feet of freezers) to keep them fresh until they are distributed, and it can store produce, milk and other items in its 40,000 square feet of coolers. Some of the community groups that help Second Harvest distribute the food may not have space to store large amounts or may have no cooler or freezer space at all. “We can distribute it right out of the back of the refrigerated truck,” she says. “It also allows us to go to some outer parishes where residents in need are not represented by local agencies.”
To keep food on peoples’ plates, Second Harvest has scheduled several fundraisers and food drives in the coming weeks:
• Rubber Duck Derby — Adopt a rubber duck for $5 (there are special rates for adopting multiple ducks) at www.no-hunger.org and watch it race in Bayou St. John at 4:30 p.m. May 20, during the Bayou Boogaloo. Prizes include a Chevy Sonic or Ford Fiesta from Banner Chevrolet and Ford; dinner for 10 at Zea Rotisserie & Grill and a luxury suite for 20 at a New Orleans Zephyrs game.
• Letter Carriers food drive — Mail carriers will pick up nonperishable items left by your mailbox May 12.
• Canstruction — Architects and designers use canned goods to build structures commemorating Louisiana’s bicentennial. The structures will be on display May 25-26 during New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE) tasting events at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Hall J. Both the cans of food used in the constructions and any other donations go to Second Harvest.
• NOWFE partnership — NOWFE is donating 40 percent of proceeds from its 2012 event to Second Harvest. The other 60 percent will be given to groups that further culinary education. — Kandace Power Graves