As Hurricane Ike threatens the Gulf Coast of Texas, many Louisiana residents are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Gustav. Tens of thousand of people who evacuated the region returned to find damaged homes and electrical outages, and are now without resources to help them recover. Feeding America (formerly named America's Second Harvest) is helping to meet these residents' urgent need for food, water and cleaning supplies.
To date, Feeding America has spent more than $600,000 on Gustav relief efforts, and estimates that it will need to spend at least $1 million more to meet the immediate needs of those affected by this hurricane. Even more will be required to fund emergency food distribution to Texas communities if Hurricane Ike retains its strength and makes landfall later this week as predicted.
Since Gustav hit on September 1, more than 100 truckloads of food have been deployed to Feeding America food banks along the Gulf Coast, but much more is needed. The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and The Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana estimate that the demand for emergency food and water throughout Louisiana will remain high for the next four to six weeks.
"We are asking everyone in America to help us provide desperately needed food to the thousands of people still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America."The cameras and the news crews have packed up and left Louisiana, so most of America does not know that many of Louisiana residents still need help. We need Americans everywhere to support our efforts to get food to those who need it most."
The public is urged to visit feedingamerica.org to make a financial donation to the disaster relief fund.
In the days before the storm hit, an estimated 2 million people evacuated coastal towns. Some of the most pressing needs in are not directly related to storm damage, but rather the affect of the mass evacuation. Thousands of at-risk families were forced to spend their limited resources on transportation, lodging, dining out and other expenses. Many have returned to homes without electricity, meaning that all food left in refrigerators and freezers had spoiled. Many are without the funds to replenish their food supplies – or even the ability to access groceries.
Donations made to Feeding America are used to secure and distribute easily prepared food such at canned and shelf-stable goods such as soups, peanut butter, and tuna, which required no refrigeration or preparation; meals: ready-to-eat (MREs) and hand-held snacks like granola bars. The organization also secures frequently requested items such as bottled water, baby formula, disposable diapers and cleaning supplies, which are more difficult to acquire following a disaster.
Local Feeding America food banks then distribute these items to thousands of residents at emergency kitchens and food distribution sites throughout the affected area. The emergency assistance sites range from established agencies such as soup kitchens or food pantries; or they may be set up in unexpected locations like a grocery store parking lot or local church or elementary school.
Nearly 3.1 million people live in Gustav-affected parishes. Louisiana has one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the country. Some of the parishes that have been affected and are without power are among the poorer parishes in the state. As of Tuesday, approximately 40 percent of residents of Baton Rouge remained without power.
The Greater Baton Rouge Bank has been able to do more than offer food to area residents. Immediately after the storm, all of the regional hospitals were without power and in need of ice to save temperature-sensitive medicines. The Food Bank provided 1,500 pounds of ice to assist the hospitals until more ice could be provided from outside the area. This ice was available as a result of the lessons learned from their response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Lois Stewart is a senior citizen living in the Gardere area, located in East Baton Rouge Parish. Stewart, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee, has suffered through two heart attacks, diabetes, requires the use of a breathing machine, is not able to drive and fully reliant on public transportation. She called the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank on September 5, to request assistance with food and water because she had used the last of her food stamps before the storm, all of her refrigerated and frozen foods had spoiled during the power outage. Lois was also having problems getting urgently needed medications.
"Her voice sounded weak and it was clear that she needed help. The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank was able to deliver food and water to her and help her survive these difficult times," said Mike Manning, president and CEO of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank."Ms. Stewart later called and left several messages thanking the food bank and providing prayers for our efforts. We checked back with her on September 8, to see if her condition improved, and she was in much better spirits."
During the past year, Feeding America has developed extensive disaster-relief capabilities. They have trained national disaster teams to support our food banks and worked with corporate donors supporting disaster-relief operations. Dunkin' Brands Community Foundation, Target Corporation and Kellogg's Corporate Citizenship Fund have been important sponsors of disaster preparedness initiatives in recent years.
In times of disaster, the general public is often interested in coordinating local food drives to benefit those in need. While those intentions are truly honorable, such food drives rarely yield the resources that disaster victims need, or products that can be transported and processed effectively by on-the-ground disaster response personnel.
Whenever a major natural disaster or significant crisis occurs, Feeding America works with corporations to secure bulk quantities of food and grocery products that are specifically requested by disaster response teams. Our network saves time, energy, and resources by efficiently acquiring and transporting these high-priority items immediately
The most effective way individuals can help provide food and grocery products to disaster victims is to make a financial contribution to Feeding America. Through a nationwide network of food banks and through established relationships with retailers and manufacturers, Feeding America can utilize funds to effectively get items into the hands of people left in the wake of a disaster.
To make a donation to Feeding America's current hurricane relief efforts, please go to www.feedingamerica.org or call 800.771.2303.
Please contact one of our media representatives or call 800-771-2303