The food pantry at Love in Action Outreach (4607 Downman Road, 504-309-5898; www.loveinactionoutreach.com) in eastern New Orleans serves 125 to 150 people four days a week, every week. On many days, there already is a line by 6:30 a.m. The organization is an agency of Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, which serves a network of 474 partner organizations and helps deliver more than 22 million meals a year across 23 parishes in south Louisiana, from Lake Charles to the Northshore.
Second Harvest continues to see a need among food insecure and hungry families in its service areas. As Thanksgiving approaches, the organization has seen a dip in its donations of nonperishable foods. Donations will ramp up for the holidays and die down again afterward, but the need is year-round. "More people are in need over the holidays," says Love in Action director Gail Womack-Murray. "They want to have something on the dinner table. They want to do something special."
In November 2013, only a few weeks before Thanksgiving, nearly 1 million people in Louisiana saw a cut in their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefits, as a four-year federal stimulus expired. That 7 percent cut affected more than 47 million people nationwide. In Louisiana, a family of four lost an average of $36 a month in SNAP benefits. SNAP supports one in five Louisiana households. Those cuts followed increased needs in south Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac and the BP oil disaster.
Food insecurity continues to be a problem throughout the state. According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15.7 percent of Louisiana families are "food insecure" — unable to feed all family members — compared to a national rate of 14.7 percent. From 2007 to 2012, the national rate grew by 1.2 percent. In Louisiana, it grew 5.7 percent.
At Love In Action, a food delivery truck drops off donations every third Tuesday to fill the market-style pantry, where people fill a shopping cart according to the need and size of their families. Without significant donations before Thanksgiving, Womack-Murray says, the pantry won't have enough to meet the holiday demand. "We'll have to wait for Christmas," she says.
While we always encourage our readers to be mindful of neighbors in need during the holidays, supporting a local food pantry is a year-round commitment. Area food banks always accept nonperishable items and canned goods. "There is always someone in need," Womack-Murray says.
This holiday season, Second Harvest is launching its "Turkey and a $20" food and fund drive, with a goal of collecting 5,000 turkeys and raising $50,000 to help feed families throughout the holidays. In 2013, Second Harvest collected 80,930 pounds of food — or 150,775 meals — through holiday food drives. It hopes to collect more than 200,000 meals this season.
Canned goods and essentials are always needed, including canned proteins like chili, beans, meat and meat supplements, peanut butter and tuna, as well as canned vegetables and fruit, and canned soups. Other staples such as hot and cold cereals, pasta (from canned ravioli to dry bags of spaghetti and boxes of macaroni and cheese), rice, and shelf-stable dairy products also are needed. Donors should avoid items such as boxed cake and brownie mixes, damaged or dented cans and boxes, junk foods, and glass bottles. Some pantries and organizations accept perishable goods (turkeys at Thanksgiving, fruits and vegetables), so check with Second Harvest and your local food bank for current needs.
Here are some other ways you can help:
• Winn-Dixie accepts donations at the register at locations in Jefferson, Orleans, St. Tammany, St. Charles, Lafayette and Iberia parishes.
• You can donate online at www.turkey.no-hunger.org and set up a campaign with a team, as you would for a charity race.
• There will be drop-off events at Second Harvest locations in New Orleans (700 Edwards Ave., Harahan) and Lafayette (215 E. Pinhook Road, Lafayette) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tues., Nov. 18, and at Winn-Dixie's Metairie location (211 Veterans Memorial Blvd.) from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20.
• Visit www.no-hunger.org to find other ways to support Second Harvest.
If you need food help during the holiday season or any other time, contact Second Harvest at (504) 734-1322, or at its toll-free hotline at (855) 392-9338. Volunteer staff can help connect you with your local food pantry or with SNAP and other government assistance programs.
There's no better way to truly give thanks than to share your bounty with those in need.