After the devastating floods of Baton Rouge in early August, No Kid Hungry – New Orleans donated an Emergency Relief Grant of $20,000 to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, who was critical in distributing food and cleaning supplies to those affected by the floods. The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank typically serves 11 parishes, and 8 of those were declared Major Disaster Areas by FEMA.
Similar to many homes in the area, the GBR Food Bank was not immune to flood damages. The Fraenkel Center (warehouse) received four feet of water, ruining 500,000 pounds of food. Floodwaters submerged everything on the first level racks, but left top racks untouched. Their primary plans after the flooding was to wash the salvaged food and sanitize the warehouse, since they lost their coolers and freezers, along with office equipment and delivery trucks. They estimated that $835, 000 worth of food was ruined. At the same time their priority was addressing the immediate disaster response.
“It was necessary to get the food out and find another place to operate and distribute,” said Charlene Guarisco Montelaro, Senior Vice President of Development and Philanthropy of the GBR Food Bank.
The GBR Food Bank moved to a temporary warehouse and acquired rental trucks and used them as mobile pantries. From the new location they received supplies and distributed food. After the floods their usual form of distribution through local agencies such as pantries, meal sites, homes, shelters, and soup kitchens wasn't always viable. “Many agencies were flooded so we couldn’t use the traditional method of delivering food,” said Montelaro. “We had drivers come to us and take the food, and distribute the food.”
Although the flood slow down response time, a couple days after the floods, the GBR Food Bank was back in action, distributing food to the hardest hit neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge. The food distribution turned out to be a great success, since people not only received food but also cleaning supplies. "In a typical distribution, we had literally hundreds of cars going through the line in need of food," said Montelaro. The GBR Food Bank estimates that 2.5 million pounds of food have been distributed to date, though they are still analyzing the impact.
The GBR Food Bank applied for a FEMA loan, but they were not recognize as critical infrastructure, which typically applies to schools, hospitals, and firehouses. In order to pay for the recovery efforts and the rebuilding of the warehouse, they are applying for grants and reaching out to supporters, but they are aware their donor-base has decreased because of the floods. “People don’t have the extra money to donate,” said Montelaro. “We have seen attendance at our meetings drop.”
Other setbacks, the GBR Food Bank experienced, are related to programming. “We haven’t been able to get back to all our programs,” said Montelaro. Before the floods the GBR Food Bank planned to kick off the BackPack and Adopted-A-Senior Program. They’re hoping to start the BackPack Program, which distributed meals to at-risk children during November in time for Thanksgiving.
The GBR Food Bank provides food to more than 115 agencies free of charge. Working with smaller agency can widen their reach especially for residents who are not able to travel to their sites. Last year the GBR Food Bank distributed more than 8.7 million meals. The Food Bank provides 4 meals for each dollar donated.
Montelaro explained the relationship between GBR Food Bank and local agencies. “While they may acquire food on their own, they also acquire a lot from us,” she said. “We provide what no one else can, but we also can’t work without them.”
In the short-term the GBR Food Bank needs funding to rebuild the Fraenkel Center and the Baton Rouge community. The main way to achieve that goal is through donations, but also food drives and volunteer-hours. If you want to learn more about the GBR Food Bank, please visit their Facebook page and their website to find distribution sites, and volunteer opportunities.