One of Baton Rouge’s many ministries to feed the homeless and hungry will no longer be serving meals after the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank decided to revoke its food allotments.
The Living Waters Outreach Ministry — which runs men’s and women’s shelters, a substance abuse center and a thrift store — usually hands out boxed meals to the hungry on Tuesdays and Thursdays on North 48th Street. But after a long string of compliance issues with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, food bank officials said they had to pull their usual donations that have gone to Living Waters the past several years.
Living Waters owner Raymond Bennie said he wasn’t aware of any problems with the food distributions, which he’s been doing for the past four years. He said Living Waters generally serves about 30 people a day, mostly from the Gus Young Avenue, North Street and Turner Plaza neighborhoods.
But on Tuesday, those who came to Living Waters seeking a meal left empty-handed. Bennie said his ministry depends on the food bank for the meals and that he cannot feed those who come to him without the food bank’s support.
“What am I to tell the people?” Bennie said. “They depend upon this food.”
The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank distributes meals to more than 100 agencies, many faith-based, in Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes. But agencies have to prove that they can follow the rules in order to receive meals.
Among the most important requirements are meeting standards for food safety, managing paperwork, documenting receipts of food products and more. Living Waters has struggled to meet those criteria and has racked up complaints the past few years, according to officials with the food bank.
“They’re a small operation, and they’re not able to meet the requirements we have,” said Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank President and CEO Mike Manning. “...Our biggest concern is that people aren’t put in a worse situation by anything they would receive.”
Many of Living Waters’ problems are related to turnover in the leadership positions of those distributing the food.
Erika Jones, the food bank coordinator for Living Waters, started her job in April. She said she wasn’t aware that she needed to go through training until food bank officials told her.
Manning said the food bank officials try to help agencies that are out of compliance to be able to meet the requirements again. It’s rare for the food bank to have to pull its distribution to an agency, he added.
The food bank will try to ensure that the people lining up for food at Living Waters have another nearby place to receive their meals, Manning said.
Living Waters would likely need to go back through the full application process to receive meals from the food bank again, Manning said. The ministry would need to prove it could meet all criteria, and the food bank does not take on pantries unless they have successfully distributed food for at least six months.
Jones and Bennie both said they would be open to taking whatever steps are necessary to receive food bank donations again.