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The Advocate, March 17, 2008: Hunger problem urgent۪ for state

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By JOE GYAN JR.

The Louisiana Food Bank Association and its five regional food banks, including the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, are preparing to ask state lawmakers for $15 million to fight an “urgent۪۪ problem exacerbated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita: hunger.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is experiencing an 80 percent increase in the need for food in the 23 southern Louisiana parishes it serves. The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank is seeing a 65 percent rise in need in the 11 parishes it covers.

“Many of these citizens represent the new face of hunger in Louisiana and are evacuees who may be displaced here permanently or for years to come,۪۪ said Michael Manning, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge area food bank.

State association President Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of the Second Harvest food bank, said the number of Louisianians living in poverty appears to be close to pre-storm levels.

“The cost of living has skyrocketed, and the country faces a recession. Thousands of families who have lost everything and are struggling to rebuild, and who may never have needed our help before, deserve our help now,۪۪ she said.

The association asked the Legislature for $15 million last year the first year the group sought money from state lawmakers and received $5 million, an amount Jayroe said the association was “extremely grateful۪۪ to get.

That $5 million allowed the association to purchase more than 9 million pounds of food from Louisiana farmers, fishermen, vendors and wholesalers and provide more than 7 million meals, she said, adding that the association reached more than 400,000 of the 850,000 people facing food insecurity in the state.

“The problem of hunger remains urgent in Louisiana,۪۪ Jayroe said, stressing that hunger is “an everyday emergency.۪۪
Manning said the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank distributed 6.6 million pounds of food in 2004, 10.6 million pounds in 2006, and about 10.9 million pounds last year.

“We already had a poverty situation in our area. This (the 2005 hurricanes) just exacerbated things,۪۪ he said.

If the state association۪s $15 million request is granted, the group would be able to buy 20 million pounds of food, she said. The association will appear before the Legislature during the regular session that begins March 31.

Faith-based organizations in southern Louisiana that are struggling to recover from damage to their facilities while dealing with the extraordinary level of need are supported with food from the food banks, as are other nonprofit groups.

Since September 2005, the month after Katrina hit southeastern Louisiana and the month that Rita struck southwestern Louisiana, the association۪s food banks have distributed more than 100 million pounds of food to people in need throughout the state, Jayroe said. Second Harvest quadrupled the size of its operation overnight and continues to distribute food at almost twice its pre-Katrina and pre-Rita levels, she said.

Jayroe said that federal nutrition assistance to the state has been cut by 30 percent because of population numbers that food bank officials are not sure are correct. She also said that America۪s Second Harvest the nation۪s food bank network has spent more than $20 million it raised for disaster relief to purchase food for people in Louisiana, but those funds have been exhausted.

“Our sources of food are drying up,۪۪ Manning said.

Jayne Wright, executive director of the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, said her agency could distribute an additional 3 million pounds of food to meet the need in the 11 parishes the Alexandria-based food bank serves if the bank could find food resources.

Jim Butler, who heads up the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana, said the Shreveport-based agency has experienced a 20 percent increase in need because of shifting populations, on top of the 27 percent unmet need that it has been working to fill in its seven parishes.

The Monroe-based Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana would have to increase its distribution 300 percent to enable the agency to deliver some level of service to all the needy in its 12 parishes, Executive Director Richard King said.

“Eliminating hunger would require at least twice that,۪۪ he added.

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