Four groups collaborate to provide free meals to hungry children in Calcasieu

Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 8:34 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Hunger in Southwest Louisiana affects one in five people according to those working to provide meals for the food insecure.

Free meals are available to those 18 and younger at various locations in Calcasieu Parish. It’s a collaboration between the City of Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, Second Harvest Food Bank, and McNeese State University.

Some children who get breakfast and lunch at school during the regular school year are at risk of not having meals during the summer.

The joint effort is to make sure no child goes hungry. The Community Kitchen at McNeese is one of the places they prepare meals to be delivered to feeding sites. And young people can eat in the cafeteria at LaGrange High School for example.

Fifteen-year-old Dylan Thomas said the food and the community service are great.

“Some people out here don’t have luxury like I do maybe, and I pray for them. Honestly, the best mac and cheese I ever had, better than my mom’s,” he said.

Young people need healthy, balanced meals to grow and develop. At McNeese, the students learn about nutrition as they prepare foods.

Geneva Breaux Girard is the director of the McNeese undergraduate nutrition program.

“In our meals, we want to make sure we have the necessary nutrients, protein, carbs, fats. These are all necessary including the vitamins and minerals we get from our fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Students like Colleen Fontenot enjoy being a part of it.

“I think it’s a really important part of the community. I went through covid and the hurricanes and all that and there were friends and students who didn’t have enough to eat. And I know food insecurity extends beyond our school,” said Fontenot. She has her bachelor’s degree and plans to continue on to get a masters.

Some meals are delivered to sites while others are served up at places, such as LaGrange High School where mostly teens showed up for lunch.

Student Taylor Ryan was there to get a quick lunch.

“I think it helps some of these people. Some people have to go to work or some people ain’t got their mama or daddy in their life, so they need help. They need this,” said Ryan.

Chief regional director of Second Harvest Food Bank, Paul Scelfo said they hope to serve more than 90,000 meals this summer. He said it’s not hard to participate.

“Easy, easy. Just sign up at one of the local camps, go to one of the local rec centers. There are sixteen sites around Calcasieu Parish where you can sign up and get the meals,” he said.

Michael Castille with the City of Lake Charles, said they are thrilled to participate.

“This program feeds our campers. Our summer camp program ranges from keeping kids active through different activities, kind of like physical education and educational stuff, where it’s fun. They don’t realize they’re learning,” said Castille, who added they have a few openings in camps sponsored by the City.

Courtney Jacob, CPPJ grants coordinator, said the parish has its program too.

“Mother Theresa’s saying if you can’t feed a hundred people feed just one. That’s our goal. To make sure no kid goes unfed this summer. We really have passion to feed the youth in our community,” said Jacob.

That saying is painted on one of the walls of the Community Kitchen.