Larry Nance Jr., a forward for the New Orleans Pelicans, leads the effort to combat food insecurity

NEW ORLEANS – From its gumbo, fried and boiled seafood and other unique fare, New Orleans is known for its distinct Creole food and as one the best restaurant cities in the world. Even still, a lot of New Orleanians are left hungry every day and struggle to get a plate on Thanksgiving. New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr., is hoping to change food insecurity in New Orleans with the help of some local high school kids.

“We know that food insecurity is a problem finding food for New Orleans residents and people in this community, homeless population, low-income population, people that need access to food,” Nance told Andscape. “So how do we get them access to food?”

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Nance hopes to answer that question with the arrival of The Larry Nance Jr. Zero Hunger Challenge announced today.

The Zero Hunger Challenge provides New Orleans public high school juniors and seniors an “opportunity to use their imagination and creativity to propose transformative solutions to combat food insecurity.” All New Orleans public high schools are invited to participate with five juniors and seniors per school offering a pitch to solve the issue. The NBA veteran asked school principals to select civic-minded students with interest in addressing hunger in their community. The schools must build their teams by Dec. 7 and students will also be assigned mentors.

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The top four school finalists will present their creative solution pitch at a luncheon hosted by Nance’s foundation on Feb. 24, 2024. Nance, other members of the Pelicans, community leaders, New Orleans public high school leadership, food insecurity experts, donors, and city and government officials are expected to attend. Each student from the winning school will receive a $10,000 college scholarship and in-game and social media recognition from the Pelicans.

“I feel like this crosses as many positive boxes as you can have,” Nance said. “Engaging the community in a problem, solving the problem, engaging the youth by waking them up, opening their eyes to it and funding further education. So, I’m really excited about it and it should do a lot of good.”

New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. (left) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder guard Lindy Waters III (right) during the first quarter at Paycom Center on Feb. 13 in Oklahoma City.Ian Maule/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as, “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” More than 44 million people, including 13 million children, experience food insecurity in the United States, according to Feed America. According to nola.gov, more than 61,000 adults and 20,000 children live in food insecure households in New Orleans. Black households are more than two times likely to be food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food insecurity is a huge problem for New Orleans with a poverty rate of nearly 24%, twice the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nance helped at least 35 New Orleans public school teacher receive resources last season. It was then that he learned about food insecurity problems in New Orleans public schools.

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“I started listening, hearing, seeing some students, hearing some teachers and listening to legitimate, real problems that are going on, not just broken things in school,” Nance said. “And one of the things that I didn’t necessarily realize was kids all around the country are in lunch debt. That’s something that I never had to consider. You go to school and they give you lunch, oftentimes it costs $2.50, $5 or whatever. Not very much. But to some people that’s a lot.

“And so, for certain kids, they don’t have money. So, they’ll keep getting lunch and go into debt at the school and eventually the school will cut them off from food totally. And that’s a little sideways, in my opinion. It’s a shame that they are forcing kids to go to school but they are not feeding them while there. And Louisiana is fortunately one of the states that just got rid of this. But it kind of raised my eyebrows about the food insecurity that’s really going on here in New Orleans and the Gulf South as a whole.”

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When asked about Nance’s community involvement, Pelicans head coach Willie Green told Andscape: “Larry just gets it. He understands what it means to give to a community and be a part of the community and then how to invest and lift that community up. He’s been doing that his whole life pretty much. And he’s continuing to do it as a leader and a professional here in New Orleans.”

On the court, Nance believes the Pelicans, starring forwards Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and guard CJ McCollum, can contend for their first NBA championship if healthy. New Orleans had a short stint atop the Western Conference standings early last season before Williamson injured his hamstring. The Pelicans are already have several injured players this season. Starters McCollum (lung) and Trey Murphy (knee) are sidelined.

May be an image of 4 people, people playing basketball, basketball jersey and text that says 'ibotta NEW ORLEANS 25 JONES 5'

“I don’t think that there are ifs, if we are healthy,” Nance said. “That’s the only if because we know what it is [health]. I don’t think there’s any ifs about that. We’ve shown it, we were top of the West coming for top of the league last [season] and didn’t even have B.I. [Ingram]. So, we were missing an All-Star and still were top of the West.

“Obviously, Superman [Williamson] went down and the rest of our [last] season did, too. But other than the questions of health permitting, there is no question in my mind. There’s no question in any of our minds that no one can run with us. That’s what I believe.”

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Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.

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