Targeting hunger through the schools
Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is embarking on a new program Sept. 8 that will help families in need supplement their nutrition.
Through the School Pantry Program, Second Harvest will distribute healthful and nutritious food to families through two food pantries located at schools in impoverished neighborhoods in Orleans Parish. Pantries will be located at Dr. King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward and Arthur Ashe Charter School open to kindergarten through eighth grade in Gentilly.
“It’s a new concept in the country,” said Kimberly Krupa, corporate and foundation relations manager for Second Harvest Food Bank. “It’s a way to feed the whole family, not just one child.”
Outgrowth of backpack program
She said the School Pantry Program is an outgrowth of Second Harvest’s backpack program that provided backpacks of food to students for the weekend during the school year. Through this new program, Second Harvest can supply food for a whole family for a week, not just one child for a weekend.
“We are taking that same population and broadening it,” Krupa said.
The Lower 9th Ward school, educating children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, was selected due to the lack of grocery stores in the area and being a school where a majority of students are on a government-subsidized school lunch program that provides free and reduced-priced meals to low-income children (families below 130 percent of the annual income poverty level guideline, which now is $23,850 for a family of four).
“Not only is it a food desert, but the school was part of the backpack program that helped send a child home with a backpack full of food for the weekend,” she said.
Arthur Ashe Charter was on the waiting list for the backpack program and was more than happy to get a food pantry instead, she said.
Last year, Second Harvest partnered with South Street Elementary in Opelousas, Louisiana, to pilot the program. That effort was made possible with $25,000 of seed money from Proctor and Gamble and Newman’s Own. After a regular rotation of food was being supplied at the pantry the first year, the annual cost of running the pantry would be reduced, she said.
A learning process
“We learned about maintaining the culture of the school, the safety and the best time to reach parents,” Krupa said. Second Harvest discovered it could more easily distribute boxes of food for a week to parents during parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. She said the Opelousas site was among the first school pantries in the country.
The Opelousas site certainly led the way in Louisiana, she said. Through a $50,000 grant from Morgan Stanley, Krupa said Second Harvest was able to bring the program to New Orleans.
“It’s a whole new world on an entirely different program,” she said.
She said the staff at both schools will be trained to run the pantry. They will learn how to organize and sort food, how to handle and store fresh foods, meats and vegetables and follow basic national USDA requirements. Background checks will be done on those working the pantry. She hopes the pantries will be open at least once a week. Each food supplement should last a family for seven days.
“It’s new for us, so it’s going to be figuring out what works best,” Krupa said. “If we open once a week, it should really help families supplement their budgets. We all know food is a major household expense. When families are faced with budgeting, food is sometimes sacrificed.”
Krupa believes the program is going to be transformative for families, especially for those living in two neighborhoods that lack fresh food resources.
“Kids and families will have access to a near-constant supply of good, healthy food,” she said.
And, she added, when considering that good nutrition is a contributing factor to success in school, this program will allow hunger to be crossed off as an element in lack of educational success.
“There is a close tie to nutrition and food and paying attention and succeeding in school,” Krupa said.
Second Harvest Food Bank executive director Natalie Jayroe sees the School Pantry as a way to help more people experiencing food deficits.
“We are always looking for ways to have a greater impact and find those places in the community where we can reach people, and there is no better place than in the schools,” Jayroe said.
With one in six households in Louisiana – including one in five children – at risk of hunger, Second Harvest Food Bank is a beacon to fight hunger and build food security in South Louisiana. Second Harvest provides “food access, advocacy, education and disaster response” to 300 partner agencies across 23 parishes from the Mississippi border to the Texas state line.