Need and Feed

by Amanda Bedgood

An effort to keep Acadiana’s homeless and uninsured from going hungry just got healthier.

Homelessness and nutrition aren’t usually in the lineup of New Year’s health discussions. At St. Bernadette’s free clinic in Lafayette, they know it should be.

Each day more than 300 meals are served at St. Joseph’s Diner. Until recently those meals were often high on calories and low on nutrition. Just months ago the clinic that works in conjunction with the diner and shelter secured a grant to bring healthier options for every meal.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of our patients, and many don’t have access to these foods like people with insurance. Many have diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Africa Dauphiney, the supervisor and nurse practitioner at St. Bernadette’s who sought the grant.

She saw a need for her patients who were either uninsured, underinsured or homeless. And she acted. Perhaps it’s a “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality that leaves those often most in need without healthy options.

“They depend on community donations … just because you’re homeless shouldn’t mean you don’t have access to good nutritious food,” Dauphiney says. “The only way to control some of these diseases is by what you eat.”

If the goal is to facilitate people getting back on their feet, getting them the nutrition they need to be at their best seems basic. Yet, it’s the norm for shelters to provide food that’s high in fat, low in fiber and inadequate in most nutrients, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

The staff at St. Bernadette Clinic, from left: Tracy Zehner, Africa Dauphiney, Darlene Lovas, Bridgette Waldrup-Simpson and Gigi Dossey

“We want to improve the quality of life and the quality of care,” Dauphiney says.

The grant allows for the hiring of a cook and a dietician. The first is already in place, and meals now have more veggies and fruits and are lower in sodium.

“It’s all a cycle,” Dauphiney says, noting that poor nutrition and poor health lead to problems that often land people in the ER because they lack insurance and primary care doctors.

“We’ve changed everything from breakfast to supper,” Dauphiney adds. “The community doesn’t always know or understand this population or the extent of the large numbers of them.”

St. Bernadette Clinic is a collaboration between the Diocese of Lafayette and Our Lady of Lourdes that began in 1995 with a mission to give medical care to the non-working poor. The clinic provides non-emergency, medical care to the homeless and the poor at no charge, including breast and pelvic exams. The services are coordinated through the clinic to provide chronic care, follow-up care of other illnesses and health care problems, dental care, eye care referrals, community pharmacy referrals for medication assistance and resources for other needs.

St. Joseph Diner

St. Joseph Diner prepares and serves free lunch meals from 11-11:50 a.m. every day to anyone who is hungry. (Breakfast and dinner are served only to the men staying at the shelter.)

St. Joseph Diner only requires that individuals seeking a meal treat each other, volunteers and staff with respect and dignity.

Emergency food boxes are distributed to individuals in crisis who are accessing an emergency pantry for the first time.

In 2012 St. Joseph Diner built a fruit and vegetable garden. The garden supplies the diner with nutritious, organic produce year round. The produce is used to prepare healthy meals for the hungry. In addition to providing cost-effective fresh ingredients, the garden offers an opportunity for hands-on learning with community volunteers.


26,594 meals

1,196 showers

562 loads of laundry

165 people assessed

133 experiences of homelessness ended