Second Harvest’s new Ford van strengthens service

Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

A $70,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company has allowed Second Harvest Food Bank to purchase a new Ford F-350 Transit van and upgrade it with equipment to expand its ability to distribute hot meals during disasters and for its Kids’ Café after-school and Summer Feed programs for children.

“The grant allowed us to purchase a Ford transit van and outfit it as we best saw necessary to respond to disasters,” said Jay Vise, Second Harvest’s director of communications and marketing. “We chose to have it outfitted as a mobile kitchen” to serve a dual purpose for disasters and to provide nutritious meals to children in need year-round.

Vise said Second Harvest received the van in April and decided to make it more versatile “to best respond to disasters” and food insecurity needs in the community.

So, it was sent to a custom van shop Florida to add features such as a holding cabinet to keep warm up to 500 individually wrapped, hot-plated meals, and also equip it with a small, mobile kitchen with a stove to warm or cook inside or outside.

“If we need to cook outside, we have a propane tank to set up for a large cooking operation and have crawfish-boil size pots to cook quantities of things like jambalaya” and large buffet meals to serve people quickly, Vise said.

Once totally outfitted, Vise said the van will have gas, vents, a sink, air conditioner, stove/grill, a potable water tank, refrigerator, small hot water heater and a 25-gallon propane tank.

It also has a fold-out window to serve as a commissary to hand out meals.

Began delivery in June

Service out of the van began in mid- to late June, mostly accommodating Summer Feed that delivers nutritious breakfast and lunch to children in need from May to August in areas where they gather – at about 45 sites – such as camps, libraries and NORD sites throughout the metropolitan New Orleans area, Lafayette and Lafourche parishes. Each day, between 1,500 to 3,000 meals are delivered during Summer Feed. During the school year, Second Harvest delivers after-school meals through Kids Café.

“The reason (the new van) is so important is that during summer, when there is the child nutrition Summer Feed program, we have to lease vans, maybe three or four a week,” Vise said. ”So, this is budget relieving, because we don’t have to lease extra vans.”

Having the heating and cooking ability, the van makes it possible to reach more people at a farther distance from  Second Harvest’s kitchen headquarters in Harahan. The federal government requires constant temperatures for hot food, Vise said. Previously, with older vans without warming and refrigeration capabilities, mostly room-temperature food was delivered to sites at distances from where the food was prepared, Vise said.

“Wherever we deliver or prepare hot food when it is not eaten right away, we had to keep it at 140 degrees, Vise said. “This is versatile enough to deliver shelf-stable meals or hot meals from the kitchen and keep it warm at a safe temperature and deliver hot meals at a longer distance. The generator can extend our reach.”

Second Harvest was one of three nonprofits nationwide to receive the grant for the van, Vise said. Second Harvest is looking to acquire a second, similar van in the future.

Second Harvest Food Bank is located at 700 Edwards Ave., Harahan. For details, call 734-1322. For volunteer opportunities, call volunteer services coordinator Michelle Rosamond at 729-2849 or visit no-hunger.org. If you need help, call Second Harvest’s Benefits Helpline at 1(855) 392-9338, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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

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