Just before the holidays, Feeding Louisiana, an association of food banks across the state, brought together six of Louisiana’s child health experts and advocates to discuss food insecurity's effect on educational outcomes. The conversation quickly shifted to the challenges of feeding children during the Covid-19 pandemic and innovative solutions to combat them. In fact, the poignant conversation inspired an article titled, "COVID increased childhood food insecurity in Louisiana, brought creative solutions."
TOP’s Executive Director, Emily Chatelain, joined this virtual panel to shine light on the lack of access to meal programs due to barriers like transportation, stigma, and awareness. Emily shared with the group that "the kids that need the meals the most aren't the ones that are in the programs." She explained that one of the many ways TOP solves this problem is by partnering with rural school districts (like East Feliciana, Plaquemines, and Acadia parishes) to distribute meal boxes containing a week's worth of pre-portioned, pre-plated meals with fresh fruit and milk. The meal boxes are distributed at dismissal, or during the summer at a weekly drive-thru, so that children do not go hungry at home.
Pre-Covid, TOP worked exclusively with after school and summer programs around the state to provide on-site meals for children enrolled in programming. TOP continues this work year round with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Acadiana, YMCA of Greater New Orleans, Community Works of Louisiana, Rejoice, Inc. and more. To increase access to these program meals during the pandemic TOP has utilized USDA waivers that allow flexibilities within the federal child nutrition programs. One of the waivers, for example, allows parents or guardians to pick up meals when a child cannot attend programming.
Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida have called for even more creative ways of feeding people outside of traditional feeding programs. In addition to our after school and summer programming, TOP now works alongside communities to provide emergency relief feeding for children and families, meal box distributions for schools which take the form of holiday feeding, home delivery, and drive-thru distributions.
The other panelists at the Feeding Louisiana roundtable offered solutions such as P-EBT, backpack feeding, school pantries, and community refrigerators. To read more about how these school leaders and child nutrition advocates are creatively filling the meal gaps exacerbated by the pandemic’s complex challenges, click here!
Big thanks to Feeding Louisiana for including TOP in the conversation, and to all of the other panelists for being Hunger Relief Heroes in our community!
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