As food insecurity grows in Baton Rouge, efforts to provide food are stretched thin

Food banks, community organizations working overtime to meet demand for food amid pandemic

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The line for East Baton Rouge Council on Aging’s (EBRCOA) food distribution stretched at least a mile down Hooper Road on Thursday, May 28, as many looked for help in putting food on their tables.

Leatha Kay got in line at 7:30 Thursday morning. She did not make it up to the front until 11 a.m.

“I’m doing it because it’s necessary,” Kay said. “I’ve got to keep my grand babies, I’ve got to help my daughter out, so I didn’t fuss about it. I’m just thankful for it.”

About ten cars behind Kay was Frank Pope. Like Kay, he had been sitting in the line for hours.

“My wife had the virus and she was in the hospital and it really put a lot of stress on us for sure,” Pope said.

This is the first time either Kay or Pope have ever asked for assistance like this. In fact, Tasha Clark-Amar, the CEO for EBRCOA, says most of the 1,500 that came out Thursday have never asked for food before.

“I’ve had grandchildren that have had to come move in from out of town and I need some help,” Kay said.

As the pandemic continues, Clark-Amar says the lines for these food distributions have gotten longer and longer.

“The demand is getting greater and greater,” she said. “These are seniors from all over the parish who are having a financial crunch right now because they’re using their normal resources to buy PPP and hygiene and cleaning supplies and their resources, their finances, are limited.”

It’s not just the seniors who are struggling with food insecurity though.

In a given year, the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank serves approximately 100,000 people. Just in April, it served half that.

“I don’t think that food banks can meet the need ordinarily,” said CEO Mike Manning. “With all these additional people, we’re just trying to do as much as we possibly can.”

Manning has had to scour every grant and federal funding program just to have the funding available to keep the shelves inside the food bank’s warehouse stocked before they are depleted again.

“It’s really a function of can we get enough out to be a stopgap until the economy can come back online?” Manning said.

No one really knows when that will happen though, so until then, food banks and other organizations are having to work around the clock to make sure everyone who needs food gets it.

According to EBRCOA, around 1,500 people came through the line to receive a hot meal and groceries Thursday. The lines at the organization’s food distribution events have grown longer and longer as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

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