The New Orleans Health Department has selected six community organizations to receive a total of $1.5 million in federal coronavirus pandemic aid to improve health in the city by tackling violence and food insecurity.

The city’s health agency said last week that the six projects — four of which will address food access and insecurity, with the other two tackling community violence — will begin by early next year. 

“Food security and violence interruption are goals that the health department has established in its community health improvement plan,” said Jeanie Donovan, the department’s deputy director. “Being able to award this funding is really exciting to us to be able to build capacity in our community organizations…where we have aligned goals.” 

Four organizations will receive awards ranging from $100,000 to $400,000 to work on elevating food access and security.

The Center for Restorative Approaches and Ubuntu Village, two groups already working to address youth violence in the city, will also receive a total of $500,000 for conflict mediation work at local schools and for “street-level community based violence interruption,” respectively, according to a news release.

The $1.5 million is just a small fraction of the nearly $388 million in pandemic relief dollars allocated to New Orleans from the federal government. The city is putting that cash to use across a broad range of projects, from buying new public safety vehicles to providing utility payment assistance, though it has also come under criticism from some community groups over issues of transparency and accountability in how the city has allocated the money.

The food security projects, which are receiving a total of $1 million, could work to alleviate hunger in a city where the food insecurity rate as of 2021, according to Feeding America, was 15.3%, meaning roughly 58,000 Orleans Parish residents lacked consistent access to enough food to sustain a healthy life.

Second Harvest, a south Louisiana-based food bank, will use its $100,000 award to focus on food access in Central City. Some of the funds will go toward free food distribution, but the anti-hunger group will also expand its nutrition education and federal food assistance outreach programming in the area, according to a spokesperson.

“This grant from the New Orleans Health Department represents a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to improve the health and well-being of our neighbors,” said Brittany Taylor, a spokesperson for Second Harvest. 

Another recipient, the Sankofa Community Development Corporation, will focus on using its $250,000 award to provide healthy food access in the Lower 9th Ward. Sankofa plans to source produce and other products from local farmers to sell at the new healthy food hub it is building at 5029 St. Claude Avenue. The award will also support free community classes focusing on nutrition and health diets that Sankofa has partnered with Xavier University to teach across the city.

Rashida Ferdinand, Sankofa’s founder and CEO, said she appreciated the investment the city is making to combat a lack of consistent access to fresh and healthy food in her community. 

Ferdinand said she hopes the funding will also stimulate more growth and development in the Lower 9th Ward.

“There’s been a lot of meetings over the past 10, 15 years and plans [to revitalize the Lower 9th Ward] that sit on a shelf,” she said. “We have a lot, lot more work to do.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.

Minh (Nate) Ha is a recent magna cum laude graduate from American University with a Bachelor's degree in journalism. Originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Ha has spent the past four years in Washington,...