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|King expects rough year for food bank|
Northeast Louisiana Food Bank expects to see more people in need of its services over the next year due to what some economists describe as a downturn in the nation's economy.
That's according to executive director Richard King, who was busy Monday going over a long-term plan to address the expected increase in need among northeast Louisiana residents.
Late last week, Bastrop's International Paper announced it would shut down operations, leaving more than 550 area residents without jobs.
"Every one of them represents a family who depended on that mill for an income, and right now, they are looking at a bleak picture," King said.
"We deal with this every day," King explained. "People who lost their job through no fault of their own come here, and it's our job to make sure they don't go hungry. We had a young couple come in this morning with a baby. There is no way in the world we can let that family go hungry."
"We've got to do it," King added.
Food bank officials fear there could be more local people without jobs over the next year. That is why food bank officials are aggressively addressing how they will deal with future needs.
"In our current environment, things are going OK, but our focus is on how to deal with next year because of what's happening with the economy," King continued. "I'm really concerned. Today, things are under control, but tomorrow, who knows?
"Look at what happened in Bastrop. The chickens are fixing to come home to roost, and it's going to affect our area."
During the holiday season, the food bank is always busy with food drives and working to budget for next year, King said.
In light of a downturn in the economy, the food bank is busier this year. The food bank has seen about 20 percent to 30 percent more people show up this year in need of food.
"The worse things get, the more we dig in and push," King said. "We will succeed, but we must think about what we're going to do in the next few months and next year.
"We're seeing an increase as we go forward, and this was going on before the financial crisis. We expect to see a lot more people, and that means we need to find more food and more money for the things to come."
Last year the food bank distributed more than three million pounds of food throughout northeast Louisiana. Roughly one million pounds of that food was purchased with state funding.
King is concerned recent discussion about state budget cuts will affect food banks throughout the state.
While the Legislature is not scheduled to meet again until April, state Sen. Mike Walsworth has already said the state faces some tough times ahead budgetary wise in light of the recent drop in the price of oil.
"They're talking about a big budget shortfall, and the Legislature will look at things in April and it's critical that elected officials understand that people who lose their jobs are good people and we cannot turn our backs on them," King said. "I understand the concern with the state budget, but I hope when they're setting their priorities they remember that we are morally and ethically responsible to make sure that no one goes hungry. I hope having people not go hungry is set as a high priority.
"If we don't get state funding, we will have a million pounds shortfall in food. I think the governor recognizes that the food banks are worthwhile. I know he understands the problems, and I know we'll get strong consideration, so I'm cautiously optimistic."
There is a big push during the holiday season to raise money and acquire food, and King says this year's efforts look good so far. Over the past several years, the food bank has worked to broaden its donor base.
Last December, the food bank distributed about 260,000 pounds of food throughout northeast Louisiana. During the holiday season, more organizations, churches and groups work to address hunger needs throughout the region.
"This is the giving season, and the time of year that more people are out there helping others, so overall, there is more food available in November and December," King said. "A lot of organizations are helping with feeding families, so the need is closer to being met in November and December."
But those people who rely on the food bank's services will still have this need when the holiday season ends, King said.
"They will still be around in January, and the need will still be there," he said.
The food bank relies mostly on donations from all over the United States. It is the last resort for people who are without resources. It distributes more than three 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.