Second Harvest Food Bank — Fighting Hunger in Emergencies, Year-Round

Ford Transit feeds families throughout southern Louisiana and beyond

NEW ORLEANS — When Hurricane Barry was menacing the U.S. Gulf Coast and preparing to make landfall, Natalie Jayroe and her team at Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans were monitoring the fluid weather conditions and formulating their disaster response plans. They connected with partner agencies and the communities they serve to assess needs, supplies and transportation. If there is a silver lining in hurricane emergency preparation, it's that weather forecasters, first responders and residents can see the storm brewing ahead of time, providing critical hours to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Thankfully, Barry's roar proved more ferocious than his bite and food distribution was the priority for people impacted by localized flooding and power outages.

Second Harvest tile

Second Harvest Food Bank provides access to food, education and disaster response to more than 700 community partners across 23 parishes in southern Louisiana. Food bank staff and volunteers distribute meals to more than 210,000 people each year. In 2018, Ford Fund awarded Second Harvest a customized Ford Transit van as part of the Ford Disaster Relief Mobility Challenge. The challenge asked nonprofits how they would customize a Transit to fit a particular disaster response need in their community. Second Harvest equipped their vehicle to serve hot meals with a kitchen, a service window and an awning. The van is tailor made to fill urgent community needs, and Jayroe — the organization's president and CEO — says the goal is to keep it rolling year round.

"We're grateful that Barry did not pack more of a punch. It could have been so much worse. Our disaster response plan is to be as responsive as possible for the community, as soon as we see something that could cause suffering. It's challenging. The number one rule of disaster response is that things change and you never want your response to be static and not what the community needs. You want to hear the stories from the neighborhoods and do what you can to meet those needs."

Have you been able to utilize the customized Ford Transit van you received in the Ford Disaster Relief Mobility Challenge?

Natalie Jayroe
Natalie Jayroe

"The number one request we get after a disaster is for meals, hot meals, and that's where our new disaster truck is going to be a godsend. Thank you! We can gather at a church or in the community center and this van allows us to prepare hot meals. And it goes beyond nutritional value. People gather at the church or community center to share stories and resources before going back to get their homes in order. The best thing we can do for them is show up and have hot meals. Show them here's how we can help alleviate your challenges. The Transit is number one to be used for disasters. We feel hunger is always an emergency. If we've got an asset and we're not having a disaster, we'd much rather have the truck in use. We want it to be working year round. The Transit van was not only used for Barry, but we've been road testing it with our summer feeding program where we often transport hot meals. We're getting a feel for the truck how is going to work. We have a lot of chefs who want to come in and start cooking as soon as a disaster happens. Not only here, but in other parts of the country. There's a real pay it forward feeling down here because people know how much we have benefitted from the generosity of others. We always want to pay it forward."

How important is it for companies, such as Ford, to support nonprofit work?

"Seventy-five percent of our annual support comes from private sources. Nonprofits in this country — and food banks in particular — are able to do what we do because of our incredible partnerships with for-profit companies. Not only do they provide products, food and equipment, like this amazing van, but our volunteers come from corporations. We could not distribute our 30 million meals a year without the support of corporations. It's the unique ingredient that makes nonprofits so strong in this country. We're as strong as the community around us and companies are the way a community organizes to get work done."

How did you get into nonprofit work?

"I was in the hotel business and saw how much of the food we prepared was wasted. I wanted to see how we could get leftover food to people who needed it. I put together a group of chefs and they started donating food from restaurants. At some point, I was asked if I ever thought about working in nonprofit. When I do nonprofit work, I'm excited and stimulated every moment of every day. It's so entrepreneurial. I'm always looking at the pieces of the puzzle and saying this is where the food is coming from, this is where the need is. How can we serve the people in our community a little bit better? I get all the value of that for-profit world and the opportunity to do my nonprofit mission and service at the same time. It's very addictive. No two days are alike, even after 25 years as CEO of food banks."

What does success look like to you?

"It's making a difference in people's lives and strengthening communities. There's two aspects to this. For food banks there are always going to be emergency needs. I can go to sleep at night and know that someone's life has been touched in a positive way, that I have alleviated the suffering they face and helped them on their way. Every individual we help is why I do this. That's success for me. In the end, if south Louisiana is stronger and more resilient and the food bank can be an approach to solving community problems that's what inspires us every day."

Are there things people in the community don't fully understand about nonprofits?

"People in the community don't give themselves enough credit for how generous they are and how much each person is willing to give to help their neighbor or someone in need. So much of the public dialogue we have now is negative, people not pulling their weight. What I get to see every single day is how many people — and I'd say the majority — are thinking about how am I going to help. If I have this extra can in the cupboard, why don't I give it to the mailman to give to the food bank? Each day I see the kindness and generosity of people. For nonprofits like ours, sometimes I worry that people are concerned that nonprofits are helping people not be productive, and that could not be further from the truth. Everything we do is an attempt to give people a hand up. We're taking a resource that would end up in the trash and we're trying to make it do something good, and I don't think there is anything more American than that."

For more information on Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana visit https://no-hunger.org/.