Food Banks Face Tough Job in Hurricane Zone

Hurricane victims along the Gulf Coast may continue to need food relief for as long as two years, officials say. One New Orleans food bank's effort to keep up with demand illustrates the challenges faced by many.

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Some hurricane victims along the Gulf Coast may need help putting food on the table for up to two years. That's what members of the House Agriculture Committee heard when they toured a New Orleans area food bank over the weekend. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

When Hurricane Katrina knocked out power to the Gulf Coast, many residents lost a refrigerator full of food. The Second Harvest Food Bank outside New Orleans lost seven refrigerated truckloads. Even before that mess was cleaned up, though, the food bank shifted into high gear. Over the last seven weeks, the bank has distributed some 10 million pounds of food and supplies. That's more than it usually handles in seven months.

Mr. TOBY IVES(ph) (Second Harvest Food Bank): And 48 hours after the landfall of the storm, we were distributing food.

HORSLEY: Acting director Toby Ives continues to receive urgent appeals from Louisiana's coastal parishes battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Mr. IVES: I just got an e-mail this morning from down near Forked Island, Cow Island and Pecan Island where they don't have potable water yet. And 2,500 people are begging for food through the churches and food distributions areas there. So we're sending more tractor-trailer loads of food there.

HORSLEY: Ives says many of those affected by the hurricanes will continue to need food relief long after they return home, perhaps because they've lost jobs or otherwise have trouble paying for groceries. Yesterday, food bank officials urged visiting lawmakers to extend a tax deduction that encourages small businesses to donate food. Staffers complain that income eligibility requirements and other bureaucratic obstacles make it harder for the Agriculture Department to provide much needed surplus food. Congressman Bob Etheridge of North Carolina hopes to change that.

Representative BOB ETHERIDGE (Democrat, North Carolina): If we can provide resources in an emergency situation, cut the red tape so that the federal commodities get here, those are the kind of things that we can help with and should be able to.

HORSLEY: Food bank employees know all too well about the hurricane's toll on the area. Some of those who lost their own homes are living in a half dozen travel trailers parked on the food bank's lawn. Scott Horsley, NPR News, New Orleans.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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