Louisiana’s food banks are receiving $500,000 in state funding to replenish their warehouses during a weak economy.
“It’s going to be tremendous. That’s potentially four or five truckloads of food just for us,” Michael G. Manning, president and CEO of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, said Friday.
The money is coming from the state Department of Children and Family Services.
The agency’s spokesman, Trey Williams, said the Legislature appropriated the money earlier this year during the regular session. He said it took time to work out the details of distributing the dollars.
Williams said DCFS also is providing $30,500 to allow food banks to participate in a federal pilot program that aims to persuade more people to take advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The program is commonly referred to as food stamps.
The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank is struggling with low supplies. The Choctaw Drive-based organization serves 125 agencies, including St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and United Methodist Hope Ministries.
“This is the lowest we’ve been since (Hurricane) Katrina,” said Manning, gesturing to shelves filled with bottled drinks but little food.
Donations are diminished because of the national recession. State funding also is on the decline.
Manning said the state’s five food banks used to get a combined $5 million a year from the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry. He said that funding source dried up a few years ago.
Sam Irwin, press secretary for the agriculture department, said the money was appropriated to the agency by the state to give to the food banks. He said budget cuts eliminated the funding.
The state is grappling with budget problems because of a decline in revenue.
The Food Bank sent out a news release Aug. 18 about its bare shelves. Half its warehouse was empty. The freezer only held several pallets of fruit.
First lady Supriya Jindal traveled the state to encourage donations to food banks.
The pleas generated donations. The start of school also helped since many children receive breakfast and lunch as part of their learning. But the shelves at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank are far from full.
Manning said his organization’s food leaves the warehouse as soon as it arrives because demand is so great.
With his food bank’s portion of the $500,000 from the state, Manning said he will buy food from Louisiana farmers and producers.
Whether the $500,000 will continue into the future is unclear.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said the administration would work with the Legislature on funding food banks. Plotkin did not cite any level of commitment.
Manning said the SNAP pilot program already is working by encouraging people who visit food pantries to apply for benefits. He said the program is especially helpful with senior citizens who sometimes are hesitant to ask for food stamps.
Manning said state officials need to look at the bigger picture in addressing hunger. He said poverty often leads to inexpensive but unhealthy food choices which then leads to health problems and higher medical expenses for the state.
“Over 20 percent of our children are living in poverty,” he said. “We’ve got some issues.”