Latest Fight Against Holiday Hunger Underway
An estimated 34 million Americans are considered food insecure, not knowing for sure where or when they will have their next meal. As we approach the holiday season, food drives are now underway .
When it comes to hunger in America the numbers are staggering. Right now, 34 million people in the United States are “food insecure,” not knowing for sure where or when they will have their next meal. That’s according to Feeding America - a nationwide network of food banks.
The organization reports that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment, food insecurity soared in 2022, with 49 million people turning to food banks and community programs for help.
But for much of the public, hunger does not become a top priority until the holiday season. So, as we approach that time of year, annual food drives are now underway.
That’s where the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana comes in. Executive Director Martha Marak says food insecurity often looks much different these days than we might expect. “Nowadays, food insecurity is obesity because people are eating the wrong foods. They’re eating (food) terribly high in salt and high in sugar. And they’re not getting the nutrition they need and it’s affecting their health so negatively.”
Marak says the Food Bank’s service area covers the 7 parishes of Northwest Louisiana which include: Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Claiborne, Bienville, Red River and DeSoto Parishes. In those parishes about 130,000 people live below the poverty level, which Marak says includes 25,000 children. “And so it’s really difficult for a child to learn when their stomach hurts because they are hungry. And so, we want to be able to work in places where we can help alleviate that hunger.”
Marak says food insecurity is linked directly with the poverty rate. That’s because of the financial challenges of paying for housing, gas, and other basic necessities. In Northwest Louisiana, the poverty rate ranges anywhere from 13-percent, which is the lowest, in Bossier Parish – to the highest which is 21% in Red River Parish.
That’s why Marak says these annual food drives make a difference, emphasizing donations must be non-perishable: “Where the food bank does distribute perishable foods because our inventory, we are trying to build our inventory to pattern the USDA MyPlate recommended diet, where 51 percent is fresh fruits and produce. But for a food drive we can’t ask for that, right? Because that would just be too difficult without refrigeration. So, any non-perishable items, there is really nothing that we won’t accept.”
The Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana provides food to 130 different non-profit organizations and churches. These are homeless shelters, soup kitchens, church food pantries. Marak says any type of non-profit that has a mission to provide food to low-income folks, they want to partner with them. When asked about the current inventory at the food bank Marak replied, “We’ve never reached a point where we feel like, ‘yeah, we’re good.’ Because, whatever we get into our inventory, we put it in a truck and send it right back out to a location that needs it. So, we’ve never maxed out.” Some of the top food drive items suggested including canned meat, like tuna, chicken, and spam, for example. The list also includes hearty soup, like beef stew and chili… along with canned fruit and vegetables – and of course peanut butter.