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Food deserts in Louisiana, Food Bank of Central Louisiana ramping up mobile distribution sites



ALEXANDRIA, La. – Could you imagine not having access to a grocery store nearby? That’s the reality for many people here in Cenla.

It’s a luxury many of us take for granted, having access to healthy foods. But for the thousands of people who live in rural parishes across Louisiana, finding healthy produce isn’t that simple.

“In Montgomery, Louisiana, where do you go to get fresh fruits and vegetables?”

Montgomery Family Clinic Family Nurse Practitioner, BJ Colvin

For Grant Parish health professional BJ Colvin, he says the closest place to get fresh produce is in Colfax, which can make educating his patients a challenge.

“There are people that aren’t able to read and write. How do you deliver education and tell them how to take medicines or exercise or eat right,” said Colvin.

Region Six Office of Public Health Director Dr. David Holcombe said the problem comes down to two factors.

“The whole problem of food deserts and access to healthy food, that’s all a problem related to poverty and education,” said Holcombe.

Poverty and education both go hand-in-hand with poor health outcomes.

“You’re going to have poor access to healthy foods, you’re going to have no recreational or little recreational outlets for walking around or whatever,” said Holcombe.

Thisoverweight may be why over 20 percent of the adult population in Grant Parish has diabetes, and over 50 percent are considered obese.

“It’s no different than all of Central Louisiana. Thirty percent of the people are over weight, and thirty percent are frankly obese, which means you have sixty percent of the population that’s not their ideal weight.”

Region Six Office of Public Health Director, Dr. David Holcombe

Unfortunately, finding a solution isn’t an easy fix.

“The problems require long-term investments in education and the political will to allocate those resources,” said Holcombe.

Resources that the Food Bank of Central Louisiana are providing in the form of mobile food distribution sites. Because of the increase in demand in rural parishes, the food bank is increasing mobile distribution sites from five days a month to twenty, to serve more people than ever before.

“There is a definite trend towards seeing new families that probably always needed our help but had not been able to access, to get to our food pantries, and so because we’re in their communities and we’re there, we’re able to serve them.”

Food Bank of Central Louisiana Executive Director, Jayne Wright-Velez

Although the non-profit is no longer operating at a crisis level, Wright-Velez said the need in our rural communities remains at an all-time high.

“There may not be grocery stores close, transportation is often an issue, so we’re continually signing up new families that need our help because they’ve just learned that we’re available there,” said Wright-Velez.

That’s why they’re trying to establish new mobile distribution sites in Winn and Catahoula Parishes this spring.

“We have chronic poverty and so that need is going to continue. We anticipate that we’ll be operating at this increased level for some time,” said Wright-Velez.

In 2020, the food bank distributed more food than ever before, over 11-million pounds, and just under two million in 2021.

“We have 20 mobile pantry distributions that are going on in addition to our distributions at our partner agencies throughout the 11 parishes we serve. So chances are we can refer you to a location that’ll be closer to you.”

Food Bank of Central Louisiana Executive Director, Jayne Wright-Velez

Unfortunately, the need continues to grow.

There is a trend toward seeing new families and many families probably always needed our support but were not able to get to our food pantries before,” said Wright-Velez.

The non-profit is distributing food based on federal health guidelines.