Giving Back: John Swafford leads meal service for 1,700

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, December 27, 2017

LAPLACE — Fifteen years ago, John Swafford Jr. was preparing to throw out his Thanksgiving leftovers when his father, John Sr., stopped him with a reminder that not everyone is blessed with food during the holidays.

Acknowledging many people wish for a Thanksgiving meal but are unable to afford it, the father-son duo visited the Reserve housing projects and walked door-to-door delivering meals.

John Swafford Jr.

It was a humble start to an annual community service initiative that has grown tremendously over the years.

“It was such a warm feeling that came across me,” Swafford said. “I felt compelled to keep going and bless as many people as I can.”

Swafford continued the tradition after his father’s passing in 2006 and strives to reach a greater number of people each year. Last month, he and a team of volunteers were able to feed 1,700 individuals roasted turkey, homemade dressing, vegetables, green salad, bread, juice and water.

John Swafford Jr. cuts Gary O’Neal’s hair at A Cut Above.

The project has been named the Thanksgiving Day Meals on Wheels Delivery Program, and Swafford founded Friends of St. John to continue supporting the effort.

The food is homemade, and he and his team wake up before sunrise to pack meals into a U-Haul and deliver them to underprivileged people in St. John the Baptist Parish and beyond.

Initially limited to the Reserve housing projects, the program now reaches the East Bank and West Bank, and Swafford enlists Council on Aging volunteers to deliver to seniors.

Employees of Walmart, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Dollar General and the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office who work on Thanksgiving also receive meals.

For the first time this year, delivery services were extended to homeless individuals residing under a bridge in New Orleans.

Friends of St. John was formed to support the Thanksgiving Day Meals on Wheels Delivery Program. Volunteers are needed each year from packing to delivery.

Swafford said the most rewarding part of the experience is seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they open the door.

Cheffen Wilson Milton Foundation founder Nina Santa Marina has been helping the effort for more than five years.

Marina has gotten her family involved in Meals on Wheels program, and she’s always been drawn to charitable work.

Through the Foundation, she assists the elderly and underprivileged people with household needs such as furniture, clothing and appliances following natural disasters.

Marina has helped St. John the Baptist Parish residents impacted by the 2016 tornado, and she traveled to Beaumont, Texas, to provide aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Each year, she assists Swafford with raising funds to support Friends of St. John.

“John has a heart of gold,” Marina said. “He loves giving back to people, and he loves to cook. He found a way to combine those two things. Every year, he’s pushing hard to reach more people than the previous year.”

Swafford’s previous community outreach work included organizing weekly Bible studies at his workplace, A Cut Above of LaPlace, to provide fellowship for men in need of support. He said his faith inspires him to service others.

“I totally depend on God and attribute all I do to Him,” Swafford said. “My giving back is a way to show God how much I appreciate Him and everything He does.”

He wants others to be conscious of the impact they can have on people in need.

“We need to be considerate of other people,” Swafford said.

“It’s our obligation as Christians to continue giving back to the less fortunate.”

Monetary donations are typically collected beginning in October, but Marina said they are considering collecting year-round to keep the program thriving as it expands to reach a great number of people.

For more information on tax-deductible donations, call Marina at 504-684-5412 or Swafford at 504-782-3990.