By: Halle Parker, HoumaToday.com
Over 27,000 men, women and children in Lafourche Parish, Terrebonne Parish and Grand Isle lack adequate, healthful meals on a daily basis. That’s one in seven residents of the Bayou Region who are considered food insecure, according to statistics shared by Second Harvest Food Bank at the first-ever Bayou Region Summit on Hunger October 8 at the Lafourche Parish Government Complex in Mathews.
Presented by Bayou Community Foundation and Second Harvest, the event included over 80 representatives of local food banks, nonprofits, government agencies, education and health care organizations, churches and civic groups. Led by facilitator Dr. Michele Caruso, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs at Nicholls State University, attendees discussed the ever-increasing need for affordable, fresh food in our Bayou Region, shared current efforts to address this food insecurity, and developed new partnerships to fill the meal gap in our community.
“Bayou Community Foundation has been receiving more and more grant requests from nonprofits for food distribution as our local economy has struggled. It is a rewarding experience to help in whatever way we can to alleviate hunger in our community,” said Foundation Vice President Bonnie Babin. “We recognize, however, that as a community, we are only providing approximately half of the meals actually needed to fill our meal gap. This summit was so important to draw attention to this critical issue and start working on innovative solutions to end hunger in our Bayou Region.”
“We’re honored to partner with the Bayou Community Foundation to fight hunger in the Bayou Region,” said Second Harvest President and CEO Natalie Jayroe. “Year-round, we supply more than 2.3 million meals to local food pantries, shelters, schools, and nutrition programs in Lafourche, Terrebonne, and Grand Isle. But, there is still so much work to be done, because 4.7 million meals are needed annually to meet the meal gap in the bayou region and it takes the entire region coming together to meet that need.”
Summit participants identified several trends that contribute to food insecurity in our community, such as:
- Economic downtown and unemployment
- Working poor living just above income limit for government assistance
- Lack of affordable housing and homelessness
- Challenges finding and applying for assistance
- Lack of transportation
Attendees also identified impacts of hunger, including:
- Negative impact on students’ brain development and learning ability
- Increase in number of nutrition-related illnesses
- Negative impact on mental health
- Increase in criminal activity
At the close of the summit, participants shared ideas for addressing food insecurity in the Bayou Region, such as:
- Increasing public awareness of the meal gap in our community
- Decreasing public stigma associated with those using food bank services
- Increasing collaboration and streamlining of services among nonprofits and government agencies providing services to the needy
- Increasing referrals of needy residents to local food banks and other nonprofit services
- “One-Stop Shop” for residents to access information about services offered and submit documents for assistance
“All of the nonprofits and agencies who attended today’s summit do amazing work to feed the hungry in our region, and I am so grateful for their participation. We are anxious to focus on the creative and meaningful ideas generated today to help us all make an even greater impact on our local hunger crisis,” said Bayou Community Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Armand.
The Bayou Community Foundation, Second Harvest and other summit attendees will be forming a working group to delve deeper into the observations and ideas shared at the summit and develop plans of action to further address food insecurity in the Bayou Region.