By Brandon Lipps
Acting Deputy Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services
During a recent visit to Louisiana, I had the opportunity to see several FNS programs in action. I gained greater insight on the different ways FNS is helping Americans find a path to self-sufficiency, while providing access to food through FNS' nutrition programs to people who need it most.
After arriving in New Orleans, I visited the Catholic Charities Food for Families Distribution Center. USDA partners with the organization through the Commodity Supplement Food Program (CSFP). CSFP works to improve the health of low-income persons who are at least 60 years of age by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA Foods. I saw the center's distribution process and learned how recent changes to the USDA Foods packages have improved their customer service.
“We're so happy about the food changes in the Louisiana package,” said Executive Director Tim Robertson. “Our clients like being able to get grits every month and having a variety of fruits and vegetables.”
In February, the USDA announced the changes to the packages after getting feedback from a workgroup of state and local agency partners. The improvements better align with Dietary Guidelines for Americans and allow CSFP providers to offer more variety and flexibility within each food package category.
Next, I traveled to Baton Rouge and met with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Deputy Secretary Terri Ricks, SNAP Director Sammy Guillory, and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA) Chief Executive Officer Michael Williamson and learned about the expansion of the SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program in Louisiana. Last year, DCFS and UWSELA launched an effort to expand workforce training for SNAP recipients in seven parishes. The expansion has generated numerous success stories, and I got to see their successful program at Liberty's Kitchen in New Orleans.
The Liberty's Kitchen's food service training program provides young adults ages 16 to 24 with hands-on training that includes classroom instruction, individual case management, and job placement services. The program also includes follow-up support to develop a participant's ability to become successfully employed and self-sufficient.
Many of the students grew up facing hardship and challenges in their lives. They found hope of future job opportunities in the food service training program. I toured the kitchen and observed the students learning how to execute a variety of skills from cutting, to mixing, to serving and clean up.
When they aren't in the kitchen, students gather for classroom instruction in a computer lab funded by the SNAP E&T program. The students use the lab for class research, resume writing, and searching for jobs. Chief Executive Officer Dennis Bagneris shared that inside the computer lab one young lady discovered an ability she didn't know she had – writing.
“She had to write a cover letter for a resume she was submitting and she was scared because she didn't think she could do it,” said Bagneris. “After a few hours at the computer she came to me with the letter in her hand and she was crying because she couldn't believe she accomplished writing the cover letter to go with her resume.”
Liberty's Kitchen serves as a great model not only for other culinary training programs, but other organizations that operate the SNAP E&T program. Organizations that provide jobs training can work with their state's SNAP E&T office to tailor their program to the local economy and increase the chances for successful job placement after training completion.
“United Way is willing to share their models, outreach materials, and anything they have with other United Way offices in different states to help them start SNAP E&T in their state,” said UWSELA CEO Williamson.
It was great seeing all the services FNS provides to seniors through the CSFP program and to young adults through the SNAP E&T program, but I couldn't leave the state without paying a visit to our youngest customers.
The next day, I had the pleasure of joining the children at Royal Castle Child Development Center for breakfast. The center is a Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) site that serves nearly 100 children ages six weeks to five years old each day year-round. On the morning of my visit I was greeted by the smells of fresh vegetable omelets and hash browns prepared by the center's own Chef Everette Dillon.
Chef Dillon, known as Mr. Everette, is a one-man show in the kitchen. For more than 25 years he's been planning, preparing and serving meals to the children at Royal Castle. As a veteran childcare chef, he knows first-hand the importance of nutritious meals when it comes to learning. As a Louisiana native, he also knows the importance of traditional creole cuisine and how those recipes help the children feel more at home. In his kitchen, he stays true to Louisiana's culinary roots while also meeting the CACFP meal pattern standards. He creatively fuses traditional creole recipes with ingredients and recipes in the CACFP Meal Planning Guide.
It was a pleasure to see all the great ways FNS programs are helping people on a path to good nutrition and self-sufficiency in Louisiana. We know our states and partners are at the forefront of innovation and we continue to look for ways to empower them to administer these programs in ways that best meet the needs of their specific participants. Together, we're making a difference one meal at a time and one life at a time.