Chatelain, a New Orleans native, is no stranger to how hungry little mouths are. She grew up around all boys, playing every sport under the sun, and declared herself vegetarian at age 11. That sort of exposure to intense calorie burning day in and day out drove home the importance of food security. That’s not where the project’s story begins, though.
She transplanted to Baton Rouge to attend LSU before returning to New Orleans to get her MBA from UNO. She returned to Baton Rouge, and, over the course of 10 years, she met and married her husband. They welcomed their first son in 2014, moved to Colorado in 2017, then had their second baby boy in 2019 before returning to Baton Rouge last year. While experiencing the pain and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, she tried to make a difference through nonprofit working, feeling that it was where she and her family were needed most.
Three O’clock Project got its start like most do–with passion and a lot of skill usage. Chatelain’s MBA allowed her to start working with schools in finance and operations, which
exposed her to the real connection cafeteria lunches and food disparity have.
“I found myself in the cafeteria during lunch, talking to kids about what they were eating. I quickly realized how many kids truly depended on school for their main nutrition and how many of those kids stayed around school after the bell rang at 3 p.m.,” shares Chatelain. “Most of the schools I worked with at the time only offered a snack, but I knew there were federal programs out there that could fund a healthy meal. So I greased up my fingers and googled ‘how to start a nonprofit.’”
Five months of research and effort culminated in the creation of Three O’clock Project, and with its creation came the need to approach schools and programs. The project offered a solution to funding and feeding the kids they support after school.
Since 2017, the project has succeeded in serving over 6.1 million meals to children in Louisiana. Their mission, very simply, is to “ensure all kids have access to healthy meals–always.”
These days, they run their summer feeding program and have partnered with over 35 summer camps to provide a daily breakfast, lunch, and snacks to children in need. With their growth, their team is working on policy changes through the newly-formed Vibrant Communities initiative meant to help make it easier to access healthier foods in school and healthy meals after school in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The team attributes their quick growth and expanding reach to how well they have seen the community be positively impacted by Three O’clock’s efforts. Since its startup, the team has been able to provide small nonprofits with meals to feed the children they serve, and they were also very active during the pandemic and Hurricane Ida.
The project’s success allowed them to help fill stomachs throughout the entire Southern region of Louisiana, and they plan to continue to do so. It’s this need to help and see positive change that keeps the project going. With community outreach comes many memorable moments.
“Both COVID and Hurricane Ida food distribution stick out to me as memorable. Life has been really tough for everyone since that pivotal moment in 2020 when this pandemic began. Being able to be out there and hand out healthy meals to families during a time of incredible uncertainty is something I will never be able to top,” says Chatelain.
Of course, Three O’clock Project always has big plans for the future. A new project is in the works that will bring a community kitchen to life. This is something that Baton Rouge does not currently have, but has been needed for a long time. The team hopes to have this idea fully-formed and functional soon.
As for how you can get involved, it’s a little bit tricky. The project is still operating under some COVID protocols, which limits contact with food and people. With the future launch of the community kitchen, they will provide the public with daily opportunities to get involved and make a huge difference in the lives of local children. Until the kitchen’s opening, they welcome all other types of support to keep the project moving.
If you would like to keep up with Emily Chatelain and her team’s good works (and exciting developments), visit threeoclockproject.org to see what’s new. ■