LAPLACE – Providing a Thanksgiving meal for senior citizens has become an annual tradition in St. John the Baptist Parish. But this year’s meal was a little different from those that preceded it.
While the event is usually a strictly local affair, this year the meal service was coordinated by Mercy Chefs, the non-profit organization that swooped in after Hurricane Isaac cleared out to provide the parish’s hard-hit residents with hot meals. Additionally, this year two meals were served — the traditional lunch-time feast for the seniors and a dinner-time meal for those residents who might not otherwise have a place to hold a Thanksgiving celebration.
“Every year we pick a place that we’ve been during the year that really touches our heart,” said Mercy Chefs Managing Chef Debbie Lowe.
Lowe said the volunteer group spent two weeks in St. John Parish after Hurricane Isaac struck. In that time, the group served more than 55,000 meals.
“We served everybody who stood in line for FEMA,” she said. “While we were doing this we were preparing meals for the local churches.”
But it was not the community’s need that brought the group back for Thanksgiving.
“This community was so amazing,” she said. “Even still today we have volunteers from the community who have lost their homes, and instead of worrying about themselves, they are helping their neighbors. It’s an honor to serve them.”
In addition to the estimated 4,600 meals the group served Wednesday, they prepared an additional 1,500 meals to distribute throughout the community on Thanksgiving day for those residents who were unable to make it out to the New Wine complex, where the meals were served.
In addition to the spirit the community displayed, Lowe said she also enjoys seeing the transformation that has taken place in the months since Isaac.
“I like seeing the hope that you have, when just a couple of months ago they couldn’t think about (things like Thanksgiving),” she said.
Lowe said this Thanksgiving was a unique one for Mercy Chefs as well because the effects of Superstorm Sandy have, for the first time, necessitated serving Thanksgiving meals in two separate locations.
“We’re double teaming it,” said Lowe. “We’ve never done this for Thanksgiving before.”
Mercy Chefs was founded by R. Gary LeBlanc following his effort to feed the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
It is an all-volunteer organization.
Of course, Mercy Chefs had some help in organizing, serving and distributing meals Wednesday. As usual, the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office led the charge, but volunteers from parish government, the St. John school system and the St. John Fire Department as well as a group of volunteers from Walgreens all helped make the event a sucess.