Our neighbors need help. Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana continues to see new clients — people looking to feed their families — every week. Typically, family breadwinners reach out to Second Harvest after they've lost their jobs. Food insecurity continues to be an issue in Louisiana, where one in six families struggle with hunger or not knowing where their next meal will come from, according to a September report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's slightly more than the national average of one in seven households.
As the holiday season begins, it's important to note that food banks serve communities year-round, and stocking them with donations doesn't begin and end around the New Year. But hungry families' needs increase during the holidays, when they want to make a special meal. It's in the spirit of the season to be mindful of our neighbors, to help ensure that "families get what they need for a holiday dinner," says Terri Kaupp of Second Harvest.
The organization's annual holiday food drive, going on now through the end of the year, aims to collect $50,000 in donations as well as 110,000 pounds of food. Register your workplace, school or group and find a "how-to" kit for getting started at www.no-hunger.org/holiday-meal-drive.
America's 48 million food-insecure people include 15 million children. Second Harvest provides backpacks of food to at-risk children before school is out of session for the holidays and at other times. Last year, Second Harvest provided more than 1,700 backpacks locally. Second Harvest also has a school pantry program for families. "It's not just that the child receives a backpack," Kaupp says. "We know the rest of the family probably is struggling as well."
Second Harvest works with 474 partner organizations in 23 parishes across the state. That task requires providing a lot of nonperishable food. Canned goods are always needed, especially proteins — chicken, tuna, stews, spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter, beans — as are pantry staples such as rice, pasta and cereal (both hot and cold).
New Orleans has a unique giving opportunity through Second Harvest's New Orleans Fruit Tree Project. If you don't know what to do with your extra lemons or satsumas, volunteers will collect them for you and make your produce available in mobile food pantries. Since 2011, the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project has harvested 37,000 pounds of fruit from New Orleans backyards. Visit www.nolafruit.org for more information.
There are a number of ways to get involved, whether starting your own food drive or volunteering at a local pantry or sorting canned goods at Second Harvest, which Kaupp says is "eye-opening" in showing the scope of the organization's mission.
If you need food help now or any other time, call Second Harvest at (504) 734-1322 or toll-free at (855) 392-9338. Volunteers will connect you to your local food pantry or other assistance programs. For others, the holidays are a fine time to give — but remember: The need is year-round.