Faith groups pledge to join forces to fight hunger

 

With one in eight people in Louisiana struggling with hunger, Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, knows now is the time to take action.

One initiative this month is Second Harvest and Entergy’s “Power to Fight Hunger – 30 Ways in 30 Days” campaign. Simultaneously, Second Harvest joins Feeding America and more than 200 affiliate food banks nationwide to spotlight hunger during “Hunger Action Month.”

On Sept. 7, local faith leaders gathered at Second Harvest to discuss forming a coalition to address hunger in New Orleans. Sixty percent of Second Harvest’s work is done through faith-based organizations, Jayroe said.

Among those discussing an action plan were Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Father Gerald Seiler of St. Edward the Confessor Church, Father Otis Young of St. Joseph the Worker, Father Vien The Nguyen of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, Deacon Tom Caffery of the Covington Food Bank, Rabbi Ed Cohn of Temple Sinai,  Rabbi Alexis Berk of Touro Synagogue, Trenace Dunns of New Covenant Faith Ministries, Rev. Joe Dyson of Holy Faith Temple Baptist, Quo Vadis Breaux of First Unitarian Universalist Church and Joe Blum, Vision Christian Community Church in Bourg, La.

They joined Second Harvest’s board president Roy Zuppardo, Jayroe and vice president and chief operating officer Annette LeBlanc.

Each mentioned their work helping the hungry, while Second Harvest highlighted expanded cooking capabilities at its renovated home at 700 Edwards Ave. in Harahan that includes education programs and a community kitchen that cooks, chills and freezes food for distribution to soup kitchens, shelters and even senior programs. Jayroe said the kitchen was tested over the summer when Chef Tony Biggs prepared 111,000 children’s meals during the Summer Feed program.

Dyson’s church, which began working with Second Harvest in 2006, was a recipient of meals for children.

“This is an exciting thing to see this (Second Harvest) kitchen come to a reality,” he said. “We were excited to be part of Summer Feed to receive nutritional breakfasts and lunch.”

Larger storage capacity at Second Harvest allows acceptance of three million pounds of nutritional food – meat, dairy and fresh produce – from Walmart alone this year, Jayroe said. This results in reduced waste, Leblanc said.

Jayroe expressed the threat of national budget cuts that would impact Second Harvest and urged leaders to convey the necessity of feeding the hungry to local, state and national representatives.

“The voices around this table are the voices politicians will listen to,” Jayroe said. “If we are going to preserve some part of the safety net, your voice will make a difference.”

Second Harvest also unveiled a new tool to better gauge hunger locally – “Map the Meal Gap” project through its Feeding America partnership. Second Harvest currently serves 263,000 people, but it discovered that 331,000 people locally are food insecure.

Eliminating hunger together

As the faith leaders revealed their hunger initiatives, Jayroe saw avenues for further cooperation.

Father Nguyen said the nonprofit Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation became partners with Second Harvest in June. He’s witnessed an increase in people looking for food in New Orleans East. He also mentioned the development of a land-based agricultural project.

Rabbi Cohn has noticed a different population now needing assistance – elderly couples with diminished income choosing between necessary medications and food.

“That protective shield you talked about is under siege,” he said.  “We must be forthright in the way we talk to people about it (hunger). We know as faith leaders, that when hard times come, people come to us.”

Deacon Caffery said the Covington Food Bank and thrift store also has increased demands.

“There’s a new working poor, and we’re trying to figure out how to help them,” Deacon Caffery said. “The timing of this kitchen is perfect for us. We’re trying to add education – teaching people how to use their food stamps wisely.”

Dani Levine, director of Avodah Jewish Service Corps, said they are finding their way with food security issues. She mentioned community gardening initiatives and teaching ethical eating and food recycling.

“I would welcome a chance for an organized coalition,” Rabbi Alexis Berk of Touro Synagogue said. “I feel otherwise we are an island.”

The various faith-based groups were unanimous about becoming a stronger, collective advocate against hunger.

“There really isn’t a choice about forming this coalition,” Rabbi Cohn said, suggesting a steering committee. “We are here to do that today. We are waiting for our marching orders.”

Jayroe tentatively planned a coalition meeting in mid-October and discussed a gathering of faith-based organizations and Second Harvest’s more than 280 member agencies.

“There is absolutely no reason for anybody in the United States to be hungry considering the amount of our resources,” Jayroe said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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