McNeese State University and Second Harvest Food Bank celebrated the grand opening of the first community kitchen in Southwest Louisiana located on the McNeese campus on Friday. The community kitchen aims to make a meaningful difference in the fight against hunger by preparing thousands of meals weekly for food insecure families.
In March 2022, McNeese and Second Harvest committed to working together to make a difference to fight hunger across Southwest Louisiana. The two organizations partnered to transform the 1,865 square-foot Gayle Hall Annex Building into a community kitchen that will operate a teaching and learning lab where Second Harvest can prepare hot, nutritious meals for families, children and seniors and McNeese’s undergraduate and graduate students can receive hands-on experience in food service operations and the nutritional care process.
“We embrace the partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank and its humanitarian efforts to strengthen food assistance programs by providing healthy and nutritious meals and addressing the issue of inconsistent access to sufficient nutrition to lead a healthy life,” said Dr. Chip LeMieux, provost and vice president for academic affairs and enrollment management at McNeese. “This collaboration gives our McNeese family an opportunity to work with a national organization with a local mission to improve food equity.”
The need for food assistance has always been great in Lake Charles and surrounding communities but the devastation and hardship over the last two years have been unprecedented. Today, the food bank is seeing more people seeking food relief in large part due to inflation and a 15% increase in food prices. The operation of the community kitchen will allow Second Harvest to triple its meal production to meet the growing demand.
“This kitchen fills a need and will jump-start our efforts to better serve the Southwest Louisiana community,” said Second Harvest’s President/CEO Natalie Jayroe. “Through this amazing partnership, we’ll be able to serve the community in a way we never could before. This is an important milestone in the food bank’s 40-year history and it would not have been possible without this partnership with McNeese.”
McNeese nutrition and dietetic students will work directly with Second Harvest staff to provide nutrient analyses for meals that are provided to a range of people from infants to octogenarians and observe the large-scale food production process, explained LeMieux, who also serves as the dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“We look forward to growing this relationship as we support our community and local food producers,” said LeMieux.
The community kitchen features a full-scale production kitchen, large gathering room, office and storage space and will accommodate all the programming and services provided by McNeese and Second Harvest. The kitchen will also allow the food bank to ramp up meal production during times of disaster, as well as offer daily Grab-n-Go meals for McNeese students.
Another kitchen highlight is the expansion of the McNeese nutrition and dietetics program. The curriculum will increase students’ educational and future career development in nutrition and food services by allowing more hands-on experience and observation in a community kitchen on campus.
“With the McNeese Community Kitchen and Second Harvest, our nutrition and dietetics classrooms have come to life!” said Geneva Breaux, McNeese director of undergraduate nutrition.
“As a dietitian and an educator, nothing excites me more than to know that we are providing our nutrition students with real-world experience and opportunity that impacts not just their own personal lives but also the lives of so many in our community. Our students can directly apply all nutrition and dietetics, food service and management principles in the fight against food insecurity, malnutrition and chronic disease found in all ages and walks of life here in Southwest Louisiana and at McNeese State University,” added Breaux.