Nov 21, 2023 - Health

South Louisiana food bank doubles capacity amid rising food insecurity

Illustration of an senior citizen holding a small bag of groceries hand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The food bank serving most of south Louisiana aims to provide 70 million meals annually within the next decade — nearly doubling its current capacity.

Why it matters: Even with that growth, Second Harvest president and CEO Natalie Jayroe is concerned because food insecurity is growing, too.

Threat level: In Louisiana, 15.2% of households are unable to provide sufficient food for one or more of their members, according to USDA data.

  • That's 4% above the national average.
  • "Food insecurity rates are higher than they were pre-pandemic," Jayroe tells Axios New Orleans. "Inflation picked up where the pandemic left off, and people are still struggling."
Share of households that are food insecure
Data: USDA; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Flashback: Second Harvest, which serves a 23-parish area across south Louisiana and curving around Baton Rouge, received a $25 million donation from MacKenzie Scott in 2020.

  • Jayroe says the money has powered a massive expansion as its leadership pursues completion of a strategic plan created pro bono by the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey.

That analysis told Jayroe that Second Harvest would need more brick-and-mortar facility space.

  • A majority of donations come from area grocery stores, Jayroe says, and having facilities capable of storing perishable food across the region will keep more of it from going to waste.

Zoom in: In addition to Second Harvest's current 200,000 square foot facility in Harahan, the food bank plans to expand its Lafayette capacity from 30,000 square feet to 75,000, add 17,000 square feet in Houma and another 50,000 in Lake Charles.

  • Jayroe also hopes to grow Second Harvest's programming for SNAP-eligible mobile grocery stores where food can be purchased directly, as well as free mobile pantries and a program allowing disadvantaged farmers to sell products directly to the public.

What she's saying: "Food is a symptom of a larger issue that families and individuals face," Jayroe says.

  • "We're no longer in a pandemic, but the food system has not recovered."

What she's watching: The Farm Bill, which funds a number of nutrition programs, like SNAP and a similar program specifically for women and children, is up for renewal in 2024.

  • "Policy is a big part of how we address this issue of food insecurity," Jayroe says.

How you can help: Second Harvest needs volunteers to help with the 6am shift, which preps meals for seniors.


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