It’s hurricane season, and more than 50 volunteers were busy recently at a Second Harvest facility in New Orleans preparing disaster relief packets.
Volunteers from Greater New Orleans Inc., Limousine Livery and Abbott packed cartons containing a three-day food supply for families, including cases of Pedialyte to prevent child dehydration, Ensure nutrition shakes for adults and Zone Perfect nutrition bars.
The sealed containers will be stored or shipped to regional food banks for hurricane season. Second Harvest and four other food banks will use the 1,200 disaster relief packs in the first wave of relief following a hurricane. If not used by Nov. 30, the products will be absorbed into Second Harvest’s regular inventory.
Second Harvest is southeast Louisiana’s system of food banks and a network of 300 agencies. Following Hurricane Katrina, Second Harvest made a plan to become more flexible and better prepared for future hurricanes.
In 2008, Second Harvest and Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network, formed an innovative partnership with Abbott, a global health care company, to help fill the need for nonperishable emergency food.
“It is so rewarding to see that the same products we work with every day will be used to help local families in need,” said Barbara Balentine, who has coordinated Abbott’s volunteer effort for three years. She works at the Abbott Nutrition Planning and Distribution Center in Harahan.
Through a “pre-positioning strategy,” Abbott developed a coordinated program to donate nutritional products, packaging them in disaster relief packs, to assist residents in high-risk areas of the Gulf Coast. The “lessons-learned” initiative addresses emergency needs at 22 food banks in seven states on the East and Gulf coasts as well as Puerto Rico.
Food banks’ supplies are barely adequate to meet day-to-day needs, said Jerod Matthews, national accounts manager for Feeding America. Over the course of the partnership, Abbott has provided more than $8 million in nutritional product donations for the disaster pack initiatives.
The packs can support up to 116,000 people, filling the gap until traditional relief efforts can provide ongoing support, according to the Abbott website. Disaster packs were distributed during hurricanes Gustav, Ike, Ida and Isaac, providing people affected by those disasters with needed nutrition.
“We are just as committed to serving the 23 parishes in Lake Charles, Houma-Thibodaux, the River Parishes, Lafayette-Acadiana,” said Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of Second Harvest.
During a hurricane, the food bank’s management participates in daily calls with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in order to respond quickly to changing needs, and its first-responder staff stays at the Second Harvest facility in Jefferson Parish.
During natural disasters, people generally call 311, reaching their parish government office or the U.S. National Guard for assistance. Second Harvest remains in constant communication with those agencies, she said.
When Lafitte ran out of bottled water after Hurricane Isaac flooded roadways, for example, Second Harvest’s trucks were high enough off the ground to deliver supplies. The food bank also took supplies to Madisonville in St. Tammany Parish after Hurricane Isaac, Jayroe said.
“We’ve built in the ability to be flexible,” she said.