Summer feeding program combats childhood food insecurity

Published 2:11 pm Monday, June 5, 2023

The Summer Feeding program — which kicked off Monday in Calcasieu Parish — aims to tackle food insecurity for children while school is out of session by providing free meals at more than 16 open sites in the area.

The effort is through a partnership between the city, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury’s Human Services Department, McNeese State University and Second Harvest Food Bank.

Second Harvest Regional Director Paul Scelfo said the collaborative work “bridges that gap to keep potentially food-insecure kids an opportunity to have those two meals a day.”

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“The school feeding program during the session provides those meals … but once school is out for three months, they don’t have that resource,” he said. “It adds to the stability, wellness and safety for children under the age of 18.”

The children are fed lunch and breakfast. What was on the menu Monday? For breakfast — French toast, hashbrowns and turkey sausage; gor lunch — chicken tenders, a vegetable medley, biscuits and homemade barbecue sauce.

The food is prepared at the Second Harvest at McNeese’s Community Kitchen — another result of collaboration between McNeese and Second Harvest.

The quality of the meals is vital to nourish Southwest Louisiana youth. “Everything has shown that as children are fed and nourished correctly, they are able to study better, grow healthier, and it’s really a part of their overall wellness program,” he said.

The food provided through the program meets the nutritional requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Geneva Breaux, director of undergraduate nutrition and dietetics at McNeese State University, expressed elation for McNeese participation in the Summer Feeding programming. “It’s very exciting to put in motion the act of combating food security here in our area.”

She hopes that through the act of providing children with nutritious meals, they will absorb healthy habits to last a lifetime.

“It’s important to start young and educate children on the importance of good nutrition … so they give themselves the best chance to live a healthy, quality life,” she explained. “If they start now, those good habits of healing living and healthy eating, they will be able to in turn teach that to future generations.”

In Lake Charles, the free meals are made available to children attending the city’s summer programming, which take place 7:30 a.m. -5 p.m. weekdays.

Within city limits, there are five sites — Goosport, Wiley B. McMillan, College Oaks, Henry Heights and Hillcrest Parks.

“Strategically, that spaces out all of Lake Charles evenly,” said Michael Castille, Lake Charles director of community services.

He said that while the McMillian site is not currently open, he hopes to change that soon with increased camp enrollment.

Monday was also the first day of camp. Each week, they are given a different theme to keep things fresh for the students. This week the theme is superheroes, and Castille said Second Harvest is the greatest superhero of all.

The partnership is important for camp operations, he said. With the cost of camp being only $10 a day, Castille said having meals provided to the kids through collaboration with Second Harvest eases financial strain.

“I can’t stand up a full-service camp, including food, for $10. It’s better than the food I can provide … my costs can stay down and we can serve people across all different diversities. We can serve every single person of Lake Charles. On top of that, one of the most important things is keeping them fed.”

Twenty-five to 35percent of youth are at risk of experiencing hunger, and subsequently malnourishment, Scelfo said. “About a third of kids under the age of 18 are in danger, in some fashion, of being food insecure. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Due to demographic variety in the city, Lake Charles can serve as a prime example of what food insecurity looks like, and how it can be solved. “What’s beautiful about Lake Charles is that we’re extremely diverse. You can get a great sample size of what happens nationally because of the diversity we have. That means probably a third of our kids could not eat if it were not for the partnership between the parish, the city, and Second Harvest,” Castille said.

CPPJ provides hot meals for children in the outlying areas of the unincorporated areas, said Tarek Polite, CPPJ director of human services. This is the 10th year that CPPJ has participated.

Last year, CPPJ provided 73,039 lunches and 4,288 breakfasts to local children.

In partnership with the Calcasieu Parish School Board, meals are being prepared at LaGrange, Washington-Marion and Sulphur high schools to provide for the rest of Calcasieu Parish. At sites run by CPPJ, children do not have to be participating in summer camps to receive food.

Courtney Jacob, CPPJ grants coordinator, said that due to lifted COVID-19 restriction, children will be required to eat the meals on site, as opposed to a “grab and geaux” practice of years past.

CPPJ plans to support children throughout the weekend. This is done alongside United Way of SWLA, which has provided weekend food bags to children who visit sites to receive meals.

Any parents interested in more information can contact Felicia Davis, CPPJ human services supervisor, at 337-721-4030 ext. 5111.