Agency adds sites to efforts
CADE — The Second Harvest Food Bank has expanded its summer meal program by feeding children in Cade and Lake Charles with meals prepared by volunteers in the organization’s New Orleans kitchen.
Throughout the year, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana distributes food to 240 nonprofit agencies in 23 parishes across south Louisiana to help eliminate hunger.
Last year, the food bank began participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which helps ensure children continue to receive nutritious meals even when school is not in session. The meals are free and available to any child up to the age of 18, regardless of family income.
The program’s intent is to make sure that students living in poverty who participate in the free or reduced lunch program during the school year continue to have nutritious meals in the summer.
USDA program sponsors may be governmental agencies, camps, nonprofit organizations or schools, which are reimbursed by the agency for the meals they serve.
The food bank’s new 6,500-square-foot kitchen, which opened last summer in New Orleans, is helping make the expansion of the summer meal program possible, said Leslie Doles, the food bank’s communications director.
Meals are prepared in the New Orleans kitchen, flash-frozen and delivered to the food bank’s Lafayette facility where Cade and Lake Charles site coordinators pick up two weeks worth of frozen meals. The meals are kept frozen at each site until ready for warming. It takes about 20 minutes to warm the meal trays. Fresh fruits and milk are also provided.
Second Harvest is using the program as a way to introduce kids to new foods such as tilapia, Doles said. The meals are high in nutrients with no fried foods or cafeteria standards like hot dogs or chicken tenders on the menu, she said.
About 20 children sat down Thursday in St. Mark Baptist Church’s hall in Cade for meals of rice and sausage, broccoli, cornbread, an orange and milk.
The church joined with the Liberty Heights Community Center of St. Martinville in its application to be a Second Harvest summer meal site at the request of the church’s pastor, John Mark Stevens, said Sharleen Jeanbaptiste, president and founder of the community center.
“In the rural areas, there’s a food desert there,” Jeanbaptiste said.
A site was needed in the community since the nearest USDA meal program was in St. Martinville, she said.
Some of the children walk to the Cade church, which is located off of La. 92. The number of children who receive assistance at the site has varied daily from 20 to 80 children since the meals began being offered two weeks ago, Jeanbaptiste said.
A team of five volunteers work to heat and serve the meals to the children. The Cade site is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday and will operate until Aug. 11.
The summer program is a natural extension of the Liberty Heights Community Center’s work.
“We have three food pantries and we deliver food to about 1,800 people a month,” Jeanbaptiste said. “We’re out in the rural areas and are trying to address areas of food security for youth in the rural areas.”
Two of Liberty Heights food pantries are in St. Martinville and Stephensville — both of which are in St. Martin Parish — and the third is in Welsh, which is in Jeff Davis Parish. The group has an outreach in Welsh for veterans and hopes to expand services to the Lake Arthur and Jennings areas, said Michael Dubone, the organization’s secretary.
Liberty Heights also maintains a community garden to provide fresh produce to the families it serves. The group started a smaller garden at St. Mark’s where the children can help cultivate bell peppers and watermelon plants over the summer.
When the summer ends, the group hopes to continue its partnership with Second Harvest and provide after school snacks or meals to children, Jeanbaptiste said.
Doles said the food bank’s goal is to reach more communities with the summer program.
Work in the New Orleans community kitchen will gear up this summer to produce 4,000 breakfast and lunch meals daily for its program there, in addition to the meals delivered to the two sites west of the Atchafalaya Basin, she said.
“It’s quite an operation,” she said. “At the end of the summer, we’ll have served almost 250,000 meals total, which is all cooked, prepared, plated and delivered by volunteers. … The hope is to expand the program because we know we have the capacity to freeze and ship meals.”