By Aly Davis
LULING – On Thursday, members of the St. Charles Parish community gathered at the West Bank Bridge Park to support local cooking teams and the United Way of St. Charles at the 11th Annual Battle for the Paddle.
For $5 per person (age 10 and under were free), visitors made their way around booths and sampled as much gumbo and jambalaya as they could handle, while enjoying live music and the company of friends, neighbors and coworkers. This fun and affordable event has grown to be a favorite for St. Charles Parish and surrounding communities.
Eleven years ago, a group of six men from four local companies conjured up the Battle for the Paddle, not as a fundraiser but simply as a way to raise awareness for the United Way campaign. Only 17 teams made their best jambalayas that first year, but the event has grown tremendously since its conception. A gumbo cook off was added to the competition in 2007 to celebrate St. Charles Parish’s bicentennial and was so well received that committee members decided to add the gumbo cook off to the annual event. The number of participants and visitors has increased as well, with 99 one- to four-man teams who competed and over 3,500 visitors who attended this year’s event. United Way of St. Charles Administrative Assistant Tamara Plattsmier, head planner behind the event, noted the growing number of volunteers, over 60 men and women who assisted in set up, planning, counting ballots and more.
Randy Lauve, a member of the Monsanto “Tête Dure” team, has participated in the Battle for the Paddle several times, both with his company and with friends. Though his teams have not yet won, he’s “learned not to be mad if we don’t win. We can all cook around here. This is South Louisiana. It just depends on who’s tasting [the food]. You’re not going to find something here that’s not good.”
Cooking began at 11 a.m., and the gates were open to the public from 3 to 7:30 p.m. The 2012 Battle for the Paddle winners for jambalaya were, in first place, “Cornerstone Team No. 1” from Cornerstone Chemical Company; second, “Bayou Bandits” from Norco Manufacturing Complex; and third, “No. 1 Rabadeaux” from Marvin’s Electric. Gumbo winners were: first, “Gumbo Smiths” from Valero St. Charles Operations, “Covenant Cooks” from the Covenant Church, and “Roux Makers” from Monsanto. “Covenant Cooks” also took home the coveted People’s Choice Award for their gumbo, alongside the “1st Crew & Associates” jambalaya team.
The competition does get heated, explained Lauve, “but the most important part is that we all are coming together for a good cause.”
One of the Battle for the Paddle founders, Ricky Cheramie, who is also operations superintendent at Valero and a member of the United Way of St. Charles Board of Directors, has enjoyed watching this event grow.
“What originally started just as an event to raise awareness [for the United Way of St. Charles campaign] now actually raises money for the United Way,” he said.
The Battle for the Paddle is now one of the three main fundraising events for the United Way of St. Charles, this year raising over $30,000. Campaign and Marketing Manager Melissa Frederick explained that proceeds from the event “will go to the annual fundraising campaign,” which has three major focuses: education, income and health. Proceeds will also be used to support programs, such as Success by 6 and the Imagination Library, and 28 partner agencies, including the Red Cross and the St. Charles Community Health Center, within St. Charles Parish.
Visitors to the 2012 Battle for the Paddle left with full stomachs and promises to return to the event in following years.
Whether a resident of St. Charles Parish, a neighbor or an out-of-towner, the Battle for the Paddle is a must-attend event.
For more information about the United Way of St. Charles or to donate to the 2012-2013 United Way of St. Charles campaign, please visit uwaysc.org or call 985-331-9063.