Bruce Schultz | 9/3/2005 3:31:44 AM
LAFAYETTE – A delivery of more than 6 tons of rice to an area food bank Thursday morning is the first of many more donations expected from Louisiana farmers and rice mills.
The delivery of the 16,200 pounds of rice from Falcon Rice Mill of Crowley will go a long way to help feed Hurricane Katrina refugees, said Marcelle Citron of FoodNet.
And more is on the way.
"I think we have five 18-wheeler loads for sure," said Lake Arthur farmer Clarence Berken. "That would be about 200,000 pounds. It’s all Louisiana-grown rice."
The Louisiana Rice Growers Association, area rice mills and the USA Rice Federation are joining forces to supply food banks in Lake Charles, Lafayette and Baton Rouge.
"The word is spreading to growers," said Randy Jemison, USA Rice Federation’s Louisiana representative.
Linda Zaunbrecher, president of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association, said farmers are making the donation even though they are facing tough times with low prices.
"This is just something good we can do to help," she said.
Farmers aren’t the only ones being generous, she said.
"The mills are being very cooperative," Zaunbrecher said.
Berken said some farmers are sending 18-wheelers to other farmers to collect rice, and mills are giving farmers the option of donating a portion of their crop.
"I think most of the rice mills have agreed to participate," said Charles Trahan, vice president of sales for Falcon Rice Mills of Crowley. "They want to broaden this and work with all the food banks. Rice is such a staple in this area."
In addition, Trahan said the contribution from farmers speaks well of their generosity.
"It’s so wonderful that the rice farmers want to do this when prices are so low," Trahan said.
Jamie Warshaw of Farmers Rice Milling Co. of Lake Charles said farmers started calling him the day of the hurricane.
"I’ve agreed to donate an 18-wheeler for the food banks," he said.
Farmers Rice Milling distributed 7,500 pounds for the day at shelters from Lake Charles to Mamou, he said.
"We told them when they need more, come back," Warshaw said. "We’ll probably do 100,000 pounds of rice before it’s all over."
Mary Ellen Citron of the FoodNet facility said meeting the need will be a challenge, but Lafayette TV stations KLFY and KATC are seeking donations that should help. The FoodNet already serves 850 local elderly and poor residents, she said.
"We have people housing 20 and 30 people in their homes," she said. "It’s going to go out as fast as it’s coming in."
Stacey Hollier of Scott came to the FoodNet to get food for the 13 relatives living with her family who fled from Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. More are staying on houseboats at Henderson, she said.
"All my family from Empire and Buras – there’s nothing left down there," Hollier said.
One of her relatives, Shelly Morales, said her father’s seafood business in Plaquemines Parish is ruined and even the seafood processing plant at Bayou La Batre, Ala., was knocked out of commission.
A steady stream of people showed up at the FoodNet facility at 307 Amedee Drive in Lafayette Thursday (Sept. 1) to get food, diapers, baby formula and other essentials.
FoodNet volunteers hauled filled boxes to vehicles loaded with people.
One group of 36 people from Metairie told how they had to leave Houston Tuesday and travel to Lafayette to rent a three-bedroom house. Another woman from New Orleans, unable to find her son, sat in the shade and cried while people consoled her.
Joycelyn Johnson of New Orleans was glad to get 60 pounds of rice in the load of food jammed into her van.
"We can make some jambalaya," she said, smiling. "This is a blessing."
Berken said sharing this year’s good crop is a way of helping.
"We’ve been blessed with a bountiful harvest. Maybe we’ve been granted these yields for a higher purpose," he said. "Maybe it’s time to give back a little."
Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or email@example.com