The city is launching an $18 million supplemental food program during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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Earlier this week, the mayor of New Orleans announced that the city would be receiving $18 million in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), funds that will be used to distribute meals to more than 30,000 of the city's most vulnerable residents.

“We will provide one of the most comprehensive mass feeding programs in the United States of America, the first of its kind,” Mayor LaTonya Cantrell said. According to WWNO, FEMA and the city itself will provide 60,000 meals a week—and up to 1.8 million meals monthly—during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. FEMA is covering 75 percent of the cost of the meals, while the city will pay for the remaining 25 percent.

New Orleans Restaurant Program to Provide Free Meals This Summer
Credit: Martine Doucet / Getty Images

The meals will be provided to residents who are not already receiving SNAP benefits or other government assistance, including seniors, "homebound adults," those with special needs, the homeless, and families with minor children.

"This is a highly complex situation where we have economic devastation amid public health devastation,” Ramsey Green, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure, said. “Food and feeding is not something that people should be worried about in a time like that.”

Not only has the COVID-19 Mass Feeding Initiative, as it's known, been designed to help individuals and families, it could help local restaurants as well. The city is currently accepting applications from restaurants, kitchens, or food-service vendors who can prepare and deliver up to two meals a day for at least the next month. (NOLA.com reports that the program will be extended on a week-by-week basis.)

As of this writing, restaurants in New Orleans have been allowed to return to dine-in service, although they are required to operate at or below 25 percent of capacity. (And more than fifty restaurants have opted to keep their dining rooms closed for now, although they continue to take orders for takeout or delivery.)

A third objective of the Mass Feeding Initiative is to provide some much-needed support for the city's food banks and food pantries, which have seen demand soar in recent weeks. "It will be a tremendous opportunity to amplify what we're doing now. We've gone from about 800 to 1,000 meals a day normally that we do. Last week, we did 66,000 meals. About 11,000 meals a day. To be able to take that to the next level with this initiative will just be a godsend," Jay Vise of Second Harvest Food Bank told FOX 8 Live.

In addition to the dedicated work from food banks, NOLA Public Schools has already provided more than 1 million meals to its students in the past two-plus months, and it will continue to do so through the end of the summer. NOLA.com reports that the Louisiana Department of Education has also started to provide electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to the families of school-aged children.

The city hopes to have its restaurant partners and other food vendors in place by June 14 and it hopes to start distributing meals as soon as it can after that.