St. John Ministry of Care helps those with financial struggles

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

LAPLACE — Whenever there is clear and present need, St. John Ministry of Care assists locals so they may begin regaining control of their finances.

Over the past 12 years, treasurer Terry Labat has spoken to countless families in dire straits who struggle with food and financial insecurity.

Terry Labat stands by the door of St. John Ministry of Care, an agency that provides food and financial assistance to St. John the Baptist Parish residents from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays at 217 W. Fifth St. in LaPlace.

Some are down on their luck from sickness and death in the family, Labat said. Others deal with unemployment and fight to keep afloat amid life’s expenses.

Open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays at 217 W. Fifth St. in LaPlace, St. John Ministry of Care offers a food bank and assistance in paying utility bills.

The effort to aid the underprivileged is a community venture, supported by United Way, church and service organization collections and donations from kind-hearted volunteers.

Monetary and food donations are encouraged, Labat said, noting the February food supply dropped to the lowest it has been in quite some time.

Caseworker Verna N. Bernard collects information from a customer Friday morning.

“If you want to help the poor of your community, we’re the organization to do it,” Labat said.

“That’s what we’re here for. The people who come here have nothing, and the money we spend goes in the right place.”

He said the Ministry of Care has close to 30 volunteers and no shortage of customers in St. John the Baptist Parish.

“We’re back here tucked into this building that’s not very pretty, but people sure know how to find us,” Labat said. “Some days, there are 15 people sitting in the waiting room.”

Volunteer Laurie Lambert said a local church is stepping up to bring in more breakfast foods, which have been on low supply along with proteins, and additional support is always welcomed.

Non-perishable food items or toiletry donations are accepted from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.

Monetary donations may be sealed in an envelope and dropped in the mail slot.

Ron Lambert, who volunteers with wife Lori, is seen documenting food intake Friday morning.

Those who are unavailable during operating hours can leave donations at St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace or contact St. John Ministry of Care to arrange a drop-off time.

Though the agency is open until 2 p.m., doors close to new guests at 1 p.m. to ensure each customer is given individual attention, Labat said.

Volunteer caseworkers meet with more than 850 customers a year, listen to their stories and gather basic information regarding finances and household demographics.

Whether it’s helping customers with energy, gas or water bills, organizing customer files or applying for grants, Labat and approximately 29 volunteers are always moving and working, ready to provide assistance at a moment’s notice.

Labat said paying energy, water and gas bills is the mainstay of the agency, adding the Ministry of Care offers to pay two different kinds of bills per two-year period.

The services are not meant to provide continuous bill payments, he said.

Instead, St. John Ministry of Care delivers temporary assistance, giving people a chance to “get over the hump” and save.

Verna N. Bernard began volunteering as a caseworker 17 years ago upon retiring from a health care position in St. Charles Parish.

While searching for volunteer opportunities, the name Ministry of Care caught her attention.

“I was wanting to do something to give back to the community,” Bernard said.

“I work the fourth Friday of every month, and there’s not one day I’m here that we don’t help someone.”

Bernard works alongside Knights of Columbus Council 5935 member Sylvester Dumas, who heard of St. John Ministry of Care while volunteering at a local nursing home.

Upon learning more support was needed, Dumas stepped in as a caseworker and has volunteered once a month for the past three years.

St. John Ministry of Care accumulates more than $100,000 in expenses annually, and more than 6,000 customer file folders stock the office, according to Labat.

Funding is paid in part by a United Way grant, and other donations are collected from the annual Andouille Festival can drive, St. Joan of Arc, Ascension of Our Lord and various churches and schools.

To learn more about St. John Ministry of Care services, call 985-652-2729.