Krewe defines thanks, giving

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 1, 2002


NORCO – They spent last year making other people thankful, from Dulac to Ground Zero. From hurricanes to terrorist strikes, when disaster strikes, the Gumbo Krewe of Norco is ready.

“I could fill up a newspaper with what I feel thankful for,” Danielle Bradley said Monday. “I’m just proud to be an American in this day and age.”

Danielle and her husband, Shawn Bradley, felt the call soon after Sept. 11, 2001. He saw television reports showing emergency workers munching on dry fast-food burgers. His heart, well-grounded in his faith at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, welled up.

The owner of Bradley Electrical Service, and son of local attorney Victor Bradley, he called his wife, Danielle, and told her they were going to New York City.

“I thought he was nuts!” she said later.

Six days later, they were there, within sight of Ground Zero, feeding thousands, aided by his brother, Jarred and his girlfriend, Kari Andrews, and friend Mandy Smith. His sister, Erin, and her husband, Paul Chaisson, chipped in preparing the donated rice, sausage, king cakes and more.

What was expected to serve 1,000 ended up serving more than 3,000. Unintentionally, they were set up across the street from a hamburger chain-restaurant.

“We put them out of business for two days,” Bradley said.

The New Yorkers swarmed up to the Gumbo Krewe, eating and smiling and asking questions about Louisiana, New Orleans and why these nutty Louisianians did it.

“When we told them it was free, they could not believe it!” he added. “We made so many friends.”

Those new friends included firefighters, rescue workers, Salvation Army and Red Cross volunteers, National Guardsmen, police officers and residents of every description. An African American man came up and said, “There is no color in this city; we are all Americans.”

They worked around the clock for two days, before they ran out of food. They were “allowed” to leave on the promise they would return soon.

“One lady summed it up – it was the first time she felt normal,” Bradley said.

A second trip followed in late October-early November. That time, everything from Louisiana oranges (25 cases) to 394,000 pieces of Dubble Bubble chewing gum went with them. Tod’s Catering in Lutcher brought a mobile kitchen to prepare jambalaya, pastalaya and red beans with rice.

There were, as well, the fixings for 30,000 bowls of gumbo, cooked on the spot to lure people with the simmering, fragrant roux. Add in the 20,000 mini-bottles of Tabasco sauce and Zapp’s potato chips.

Joe Christiana of Baton Rouge brought his refrigerated truck and “opened his warehouse” for oil, flour, pots and produce.

On the third trip, in early December, an unnamed person from the city’s Office of Emergency Services, told them they had “showed up out of nowhere,” and directed them to relocate to a Salvation Army tent several blocks away. The Krewe, they were told, represented unfair competition for local restaurants being reimbursed to provide meals to the workers.

“He basically told us to get the hell out of town,” she said. “They lied to us.”

The site had been prearranged through that same office, and once the construction crews learned the Gumbo Krewe was being forced out, some offered to form a human chain around them to keep them on site.

However, once relocated, unpacked and serving again, Salvation Army officials demanded they used bowls they would provide and said their un-prepackaged foods were improper for the public. After serving only 500 meals, they again were ordered out by a claim that hazardous materials were about to be moved through the area. The next day, they were told they could not unpack and were told to leave.

Nevertheless, the experience gave Danielle a renewed sense of pride in law enforcement, fire-fighters, military and rescue personnel. “I’m extremely proud, and I feel fortunate they want to do that.”

She realized as well that the Gumbo Krewe experience connected her with the town of Norco and St. Charles Parish in a special way. “It’s why I live here.”

The Krewe is still active. Recently, they helped at the Crescent City Classic and also fed hundreds after Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili.

Law enforcement agencies working the sniper case in Maryland had even contacted them about helping their multi-agency organization.

“I’m so grateful we have our president, and I feel he’s doing the right thing, not the political thing.”

She also feels blessed with her two children, Josh, 14, a student at Harry Hurst Middle School, and Paige, 11, a Norco Elementary School student and president of the Beta Club.

“They are just fun to be with,” she said. “I can truly say I don’t have any problems with my children.”

They feel likewise.

Josh praises his parents. “My dad thinks of all kinds of cool stuff to do. My mom will do anything you ask her to and helps with homework. She knows stuff.”

Paige just feels grateful for her friends and family and America.

She is also thankful for the company’s nine employees, who made it possible for the Bradleys and crew to go to Ground Zero, for the media who supported their goals and for her husband. “He’s a good, kind and gentle man.”

The couple recently returned from Terrebonne and Vermilion parishes, where they fed 8,750 people on a $1,000 budget.

“These were people who lost everything and wanted to give us shrimp!” she said. “They even peeled it for us.”

And, Danielle Bradley pointed out, “People still fly their flags.”