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|Food bank prepares for hurricane season|
Now that hurricane season is under way, Northeast Louisiana Food Bank officials urge local organizations that plan to provide shelter to have a game plan ready.
The Northeast Louisiana Food Bank is responsible for disaster relief in the 12-parish region. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, many in south Louisiana evacuated to northeast Louisiana.
The problem that arose from that ordeal was when people evacuated to rural parishes and the food bank was not notified, said food bank executive director Richard King.
"In Monroe and Ouachita Parish, things kind of took care of themselves because we had shelters, but in the rural parishes, people self-evacuated and ended up staying in a church, state park or with family," King said.
"So, we had to find those groups that were helping those people with their food needs in order for us to help, too. That was a monumental task. It was really frustrating finding those people in the beginning."
In order to remedy that problem this year, King urges churches, state park officials and even family members with loved ones living near the Gulf to contact the food bank now. He said anyone who plans to provide shelter to evacuees should be on the food bank's list.
"We just don't throw food away, so there are guidelines in order to receive the food," King said.
Before and during the aftermath of Katrina, the Northeast Louisiana Food Bank distributed 1.2 million pounds of food in the 12-parish area.
The food bank began serving people three days before the storm hit, and continued to distribute food to evacuees 18 months after the storm.
"We were the last organization that folded its tent, so to speak," King said.
He said for small disasters such as a tornado tearing through a small town, there will not be any additional resources or aid.
Yet, during major disasters such as a hurricane, the National Food Bank will provide additional resources.
"The rule of thumb is: no matter what happens, we cannot expect any help for the first three days. We are on our own. Then, after that, resources should start appearing. That's why we need a game plan now," King said.
King feels confident that the Northeast Louisiana Food Bank has enough supplies right now to support evacuees for more than a week.
"We have gone through a lot of effort and expense to be prepared. Even if we don't have a disaster, we will still distribute products as normal to feed the needy. However, the resources nationally are really thin. We won't see a massive response like what we saw during Katrina because resources are limited and money is tight. That's why it's good we live in a nation with a lot of caring people. If something happens, I think people will respond significantly," King said.
When Hurricane Gustav passed through northeast Louisiana, flooding many areas, the food bank provided services for those local victims. The food bank already was distributing food to evacuees from south Louisiana, and no one thought they would need to turn around and do the same for local residents.
The food bank provided truckloads of food to residents throughout the region. Winnsboro received the largest amount since many residents there experienced flooding.
Trucks of food were dispatched to Winnsboro's Wal-Mart where Wal-Mart employees distributed food and other products to people.
The top goal right now for the food bank is to find the people who plan to help others during an emergency.
Those who will need small amounts of food would be required to pick up the items themselves. Groups or shelters that need truckloads of product would have it delivered to them, King said.
Those who plan to provide shelter are urged to contact King at 322-3567 ext. 305.