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|King: More must be done to fight hunger in Ouachita|
Hunger is one of the biggest issues in the United States, but little is being done to address this problem, according to Richard King, executive director of Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana.
As energy and gasoline prices have increased, the food bank has seen more people needing emergency food assistance, King said.
"People are stressed and at the edge, and when one more shoe drops, they are really in trouble," King explained. "If there is an illness in the family, or if someone loses their job, they will be pushed over the edge. We live in a high poverty area, and with gas at $3.70 a gallon, that's just like an illness in the family. People are barely making it, and all of a sudden they drive up to the pumps and it costs 100 bucks to fill up their vehicle, when it used to cost 50 bucks. People are being pushed off that cliff, and we've seen a huge increase of people coming to the food bank."
King was disheartened to hear the Ouachita Parish School Board agreed to increase its meal prices. He believes it will have more of an effect than many realize.
The school board recently agreed to raise student meal prices 25 cents for breakfast and 50 cents for lunch.
"Some may say this may not be much … well it is if you don't have it," King said.
The food bank works with many local schools to provide food for at-risk children. Many children who attend northeastern Louisiana schools are malnourished and going hungry, but many people in the general public do not realize it, King said.
In one of the local schools the food bank helps, some 50 percent of its students are showing signs of chronic hunger, according to King.
"They are hoarding food, stealing food and begging for food from other children," King said.
He says solutions must be found because children who are constantly hungry will not have the quality of life they deserve.
King says tackling the hunger issue is not only morally right, but it is a good business decision.
"In the long-term, by not addressing this issue, it will just cost us more because of the increased health care and all the problems that occur when we let people go hungry," King continued. "It's a lot cheaper to intervene now.
"Raising school lunches is not the answer. I would hope the schools figure out a way not to put any more burdens on the parents … they need to go back and undo it."
He says local, state and national policy makers must work to correct the problem or it will only get worse.
"The ultimate solution is public policy," King said. "Most of our elected officials do not have a grip on hunger. We have to educate people and no longer ignore this problem.
"Then we need fair and honest discussions of alternatives. We need to take a lot of these programs that overlap, and restructure everything."
Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana is the last resort for people who are without resources. Many, though, refuse help from the food bank out of pride.
"It's humiliating for people who have worked and supplied everything for their family to turn around and have to ask for help," King said. "Older people will just starve because of their pride. We want people to come to us. A vast majority of people just need a hand up, and when you give them that hand, they'll do all right."
The food bank relies mostly on donations from all over the United States. King says right now the food bank has an adequate supply of food, but the need is increasing.
"God forbid someone walks through my front door and I have to say, 'I am sorry. I cannot help you,'" King continued. "We are going to remain aggressive and look for ways to succeed because I know there is a mom out there right now who is putting gas in her car to get to work, wondering how she'll feed her children tonight."
The food bank distributes more than 3 million pounds of food annually through 90 charitable agencies in northeast Louisiana.
For more information about the food bank, or to donate, call 322-3567.