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3-Course Interview: Mike Kantor 

Scott Gold talks to the Director of Public Affairs at Second Harvest Food Bank

For many New Orleanians, the holidays are a time to think about the needs of others. Gambit spoke with Mike Kantor, Director of Public Affairs & Community Engagement at Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, about its mission to feed the hungry and how New Orleanians can help out. For more information, visit www.no-hunger.org.

What's your mission at Second Harvest and how does it operate?

Kantor: Here in Louisiana, one in six households are at risk for hunger, and it's far more than most people probably realize. Second Harvest distributes over 20 million meals annually throughout our 23-parish service territory throughout Louisiana. It's a lot of hunger and a lot of meals. We are a central distribution hub, which means that we buy food, prepare food and receive food donations, and then distribute those meals to our more than 300 partner agencies. Our partner agencies are food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, churches, community centers, etc. We also have mobile pantries and school pantries. And then we partner with different organizations to provide specialty meals.

Many people think about hungry families during the holidays. What does Second Harvest do to help in these times?

K: One of the things we've done this holiday season is to partner with Peoples Health to provide 1,750 Thanksgiving meals to seniors. Here at our community kitchen, we prepared those meals and plated them with our kitchen staff and volunteers, then delivered them to 10 senior centers throughout the New Orleans metro area just prior to Thanksgiving. We made sure the meals were specially prepared for the dietary-needs seniors, too. There was a green salad, roasted turkey with gravy, fresh green beans, sweet potatoes and low-sugar pie for dessert. For the Christmas meal, we'll be serving over 1,000 of the Orleans and Jefferson Parish Council on Aging's seniors.

  Those are just a couple examples of what we do. We certainly receive a huge outpouring of support during the season, which really helps us operate through the rest of the year. Sadly, though, hunger doesn't take a holiday. It's a year-round struggle that we're fighting. During the course of the year, contributions go down. After the holidays, people are really going to be hungry, and that's really when we need the community to continue to support what we do.

What's the best way New Orleanians can help?

K: We have a number of ways people can get involved. There are a ton of volunteer opportunities to help, whether it's working in our community kitchen to plate meals for seniors or schoolchildren, answering calls on our public assistance benefit helpline, and of course, a lot of folks organize food drives through their schools, churches or businesses. The number one way to contribute, however, is a financial donation. We have relationships with food producers and distributors, so we can really maximize those funds — way more so than a straightforward food donation. A $10 donation, for example, can provide 28 meals for a family in need. And unfortunately, there's been an increase in that need, and an increase in the lines at the partner agencies we serve, and we're struggling to meet it. So we need those donations now more than ever.

  We can agree that jobs that pay a living wage are the best way to solve hunger. But with the recession, with persistent underemployment and unemployment, families are still struggling to put food on the table. Government needs to work with the communities to help fill the gap, and help families dealing with hunger help achieve self sufficiency. And that's what we're really aiming to do.

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