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Volunteers, Saint Optical team up to collect needed supplies for St. John Ministry of Care

Two wins in the local Miss Heart of the USA pageant system taught Kirsten Smith of LaPlace that something as simple as a meal or a pair of socks makes all the difference to someone down on their luck.

Kirsten, 16, has collected donations for St. John Ministry of Care and St. Anthony of Padua food banks and spread holiday cheer to the homeless population of New Orleans since 2013.

Her mother, Brittney Smith, has accompanied her door-to-door to collect food, toiletries and clothing in association with Bridge House in New Orleans.

When Brittney met Ronnie Luman, a realtor for Pelican State Realty in LaPlace who has his own history of organizing charity events, it was a match made in heaven.

Welcoming a new baby into the family in 2017 put a temporary pause to their volunteer work. Now that little Wyatt is 18 months old, Luman, Brittney and Kirsten are rolling out a new food collection initiative for the St. John Ministry of Care, an emergency assistance program located at 217 W. Fifth Street in LaPlace.

According to Annabelle Provence at the St. John Ministry of Care, the food pantry is most in need of breakfast items.

Starting today (Oct. 17), a canned and boxed food donation box will be stationed inside of Saint Optical at 1518 W. Airline Highway in LaPlace.

Locals can drop off donations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

According to Annabelle Provence at the St. John Ministry of Care, the food pantry is most in need of breakfast items, including cereal, grits, oatmeal, biscuit mix, pancake mix, corn muffins, cornbread mix, canned meats, peanut butter, pork and beans, dried beans and boxed dinners.

St. John Ministry of Care started in 1985 to provide St. John Parish residents in crisis with emergency food, rent, mortgage, utility assistance and referral to other agencies.

Treasurer-in-training Glenda Wactor said assistance is short-term, aimed to get people over the hump of employment loss or other financial hardship.

In order to apply for assistance, individuals must come to the office and meet with a caseworker to fill out paperwork. A picture ID, proof of residence, social security number and proof of income are among the required items.

For more information on services or to volunteer for part time caseworker positions, call 985-652-2729.

According to Luman, the food drive will be ongoing, without a definitive ending date.

Brittney and Kirsten Smith display their scrapbook of giving back work in the community.

“Once the box gets filled up, we’ll bring it over to the Ministry of Care to unload it and put another box out at Saint Optical,” Luman said.

“We want to get into some larger hurricane relief efforts and decided it would be best to start small by helping our own community.”

For more than 15 years, Luman raised money for ALS Foundation, It Takes Lives to Save Lives and other charities through golf tournaments while working in the industry.

He’s kept the giving spirit alive since taking a leap of faith into real estate this summer. He considers helping people find their dream homes another outlet of servicing the community.

In addition to collecting food for the St. John Ministry of Care, Luman aims to collect $5,000 by next month as a New Orleans Finest Honoree for Cystic Fibrosis.

He can be reached at Ronnie@pelicanstaterealty.com.

Kirsten realized the extent of people in need when she interacted with the homeless.

She recalls meeting numerous Veterans lost without financial assistance and inspiring hope in a gentleman who lost his home in a fire.

“I was a little hesitant around the people until they started talking to me,” Kirsten said. “I heard their stories and realized that could easily be me.”

Brittney is proud of her daughter for giving back at an early age, and she’s happy to return attention to St. John Ministry of Care.

“When we first started, it felt like a calling,” Brittney said. “I tried to explain to Kirsten that you never know where you’ll end up in life. If you are put in that position, you hope that someone would do something to help you.”