By CHARLIE BIER
University of Louisiana at Lafayette alumnus Matt Hackler is front and center in the fight against food insecurity.
A Comeaux High School graduate who earned a doctorate in English from UL Lafayette in 2011, Hackler is vice president for Strategic Capacity Development for Feeding America.
Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization and second-largest charity, according to Forbes magazine. Its CEO, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, is also an alum. An Opelousas, La., native, Babineaux-Fontenot, ’85, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Based in Chicago, the nonprofit organization provides more than 4 billion meals to more than 40 million people in the U.S. each year. The effort is coordinated largely through the network’s 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. Hackler said his role at Feeding America is to “lead teams that work with those food banks to build their capacity, raise more funds, source more food and build stronger leaders.”
As part of one such project, Feeding America is collaborating with a member of its network, Feeding Louisiana, in a campaign against food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis. Feeding Louisiana is a coalition of five food banks that collectively provide short-term hunger relief in all 64 parishes.
The “Feed Louisiana Love” campaign was recently launched to increase flagging food donations during a period of higher demand, distribution challenges and declining volunteers, Hackler said.
Food banks are struggling to fill the gap left by dwindling donations from two of its historically most dependable contributors.
“Donations from grocery stores struggling to keep their shelves stocked and from the food manufacturers that supply those retailers have dropped significantly,” he explained.
Hackler said food banks and hunger relief organizations are also trying to operate without their “backbone.”
“Our volunteer base is driven by seniors, retired folks who just don’t feel safe going out of their homes right now. We’ve lost a lot of giving people who would pick up donations at grocery stores, sort them at food banks, and distribute food at pantries,” he said.
The campaign is calling on celebrities with Louisiana roots and ties to help raise awareness about food insecurity, encourage donations and enlist volunteers.
At least two dozen notable people – including actors, athletes, businesspersons, media personalities, musicians and politicians – have joined the effort. They’re using their reach to influence people by posting videos and messages to social media accounts using the #FeedLouisianaLove and #FeedLouisiana hashtags.
“Food insecurity in Louisiana was already high before COVID-19, but the pandemic’s toll on the economy and resulting job losses have made the situation much worse. There’s a lot of need right now,” Hackler said.
Learn more about the Feed Louisiana Love campaign at feedlouisianalove.com.
Learn more about Feeding America at https://www.feedingamerica.org/.
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