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Hammond Food Bank Works To Redirect Food 'Waste' To Those Who Need It Most

Executive director of Our Daily Bread Food Bank in Hammond, Myrna Jordan, stands in front of pallets of food in the warehouse. The food is distributed to 25 sites throughout the Tangipahoa Parish every week.
Executive director of Our Daily Bread Food Bank in Hammond, Myrna Jordan, stands in front of pallets of food in the warehouse. The food is distributed to 25 sites throughout the Tangipahoa Parish every week.

Tangipahoa Parish’s poverty level, 19 percent, is well above the state and national average. While officials speculate as to why the rate is so high, many social service groups on the Northshore are just trying to help. One of the biggest challenges for struggling families is food access.

Our Daily Bread Food Bank is working to prevent food from being thrown away and get it to the people who need it most.

 Food Bank Works To Prevent Food Waste

Daily Bread’s distribution center in Hammond looks like a standard warehouse, except in the front there is an office where people can access food donations.

An older gentleman named Claude checked in at the front desk — we will only use his first name here in order to protect his identity. Claude pulled the car he borrowed from his neighbor up to a side door to pick up a box of donated food from a group of volunteers.

Claude retired from his maintenance job in New Orleans and moved to the Northshore to be near family after Katrina. But he quickly found out that his social security check didn’t exactly cover all of the bills.

“Without this help, I don’t know — I’d be struggling,” said Claude. “It’s a good thing to have here because it helps a whole lot of people here. A lot of people are less fortunate than me, a lot of them don’t have any income.”

Almost half of the 2,500 households that receive help from Daily Bread are retirees.

Our Daily Bread Food Bank offers emergency boxes of food for drop-ins at its warehouse in Hammond.
Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
Our Daily Bread Food Bank offers emergency boxes of food for drop-ins at its warehouse in Hammond.

Surrounded by pallets of canned food in the warehouse, executive director Myrna Jordan explained that most of the Daily Bread donations come from a federal USDA food bank program, partner organizations like Second Harvest, and private companies, like Tyson Foods, who are making an effort not to throw good food away.

Jordan said, “This is a whole pallet of sliced potatoes. But we get lots of stuff — we get green beans, corn, that’s just the basics. Cranberry sauce, lots of cranberry sauce. Sometimes we get water. Just a variety of things.”

Volunteers organize pallets of food in Daily Bread's warehouse. They recently installed a large freezer space that has allowed them to accept more donations.
Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
Volunteers organize pallets of food in Daily Bread's warehouse. They recently installed a large freezer space that has allowed them to accept more donations.

With 25 distribution sites at churches and community centers, Jordan said the biggest challenge is distributing all of that food across the parish. That’s why Our Daily Bread has more than 300 volunteers.

Lori Lea is one of them, and she said Jordan, who is nearly 80 and works as a volunteer herself, is an inspiration.

“It’s pretty transparent,” said Lea. “You could walk in and Ms. Myrna could tell you how many pounds of chicken are in the freezer and how much money is in the bank account. That made me want to come back and help out,” she explained.

Jordan said she has to keep a close eye on all of the details because space is limited and food needs to move fast. They recently had to expand their refrigerator and freezer space so they could accept more donations.

Jordan said, “Before this we had just a small walk-in cooler that sat inside of our warehouse, and this cooler was built out the back. This cooler will hold 15 pallets. Sometimes it is stock-full and sometimes it’s empty.”

Having that much space means they can take advantage of a little-known opportunity. Jordan said semi truck drivers are some of their biggest donors. Truck drivers often end up having more inventory than their customers want to buy, so they need to get rid of entire pallets of potatoes or frozen chicken while en route. They Google “food pantry” and locate donation centers where they can drop off perishables and dry goods.

Jordan said they get a lot of good stuff that way, but it can be a real challenge. She has to be on-call 24/7. She explained how the process can get complicated, “I have to talk to the dispatcher, I have to get the trucker to call me, I have to give him good directions. Sometimes he gets lost, sometimes they put it in the GPS when I tell them not to because it takes them through streets they shouldn’t be going through."

Jordan said it's worth the work — over the past two years Our Daily Bread has received about 600,000 pounds of food this way. Though the volume can present challenges, "Sometimes it’s more of one thing than we want because they’ll bring us like eight pallets of potatoes," she said.

When supply exceeds demand, She calls other local agencies, like homeless shelters, veteran’s groups, or the council on aging. They usually take what Our Daily Bread can’t use.

Jordan acknowledged that things can get hectic, “Some mornings I think ‘Oh my goodness, I have a tiger by the tail and I can’t let him loose because he’ll eat me up!’ But I do it because of my faith, and I love people.”

She said the next step is to open a kitchen next door where they’ll be able to feed hot meals to 100 people at a time. She already has funding and hopes to open by next year.

Support for Northshore Focus comes from the Northshore Community Foundation.

Copyright 2015 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio