Silent Epidemic: Battling hunger in Central Louisiana

Unveiling the struggle and unleashing hope, inside the hard-hitting fight against food insecurity.

In the harsh reality of Central Louisiana, where the struggle against hunger was an everyday battle, the Food Bank stood as a bastion of resilience. The USDA’s grim statistics revealed that nearly 13 percent of American households were grappling with food insecurity in 2022—a bitter truth that demanded attention.

Inside the Food Bank, two programs, the Strengthening Children and the Good Food initiatives were more than just compassionate endeavors; they were weapons against the relentless onslaught of hunger. Jayne Wright-Velez, the unyielding executive director, spearheaded this war on empty stomachs.

The Backpack Program emerged not from sentimentality, but from the stark realization that teachers were forced to become makeshift providers for their hungry students. Jodi Oliver, a no-nonsense grant coordinator and special education teacher at Oberland Elementary, described the brutal truth: children were going hungry, and the backpacks filled with weekend meals were a desperate response to an urgent crisis.

Oberland Elementary was no stranger to the harsh realities of the programs. The backpacks weren’t just filled with food; they carried the weight of a system failing its most vulnerable. Chris Hall, the school’s guidance counselor, acknowledged that for some students, the school wasn’t just an institution of learning but a refuge where a warm meal was a rare luxury.

The Strengthening Children program wasn’t about cultivating a love for gardening; it was about survival. In a region where food insecurity was a silent epidemic, work ethic and understanding the source of their sustenance became critical lessons. The program was a gritty acknowledgment that these children weren’t just learning about food origins; they were learning about survival.