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Wheels behind the meals: Swafford drives meal delivery for 1,900

LAPLACE — John Swafford Jr. is a quiet, soft-spoken gentleman, but his leadership ability is evident from the massively successful meal delivery program he coordinates annually.

While most families gorge themselves on Thanksgiving Day, Swafford and a host of volunteers hit the road in U-Haul trucks to deliver dinner boxes stuffed with turkey or ham, dirty rice, green beans, salad, macaroni and dinner rolls to St. John the Baptist Parish’s elderly and underprivileged residents.

Swafford’s initiative, named the Thanksgiving Day Meals on Wheels Program, set a new record this year by delivering 1,900 meals in a matter of hours.

The first planned Meals on Wheels delivery on Thanksgiving Day 2003 fed approximately 50 people.

Each year, Swafford’s team gathers the night before Thanksgiving and prepares homecooked meals until morning light shines through the windows. The meals are loaded into trucks, and deliveries are completed by 4:30 p.m.

Areas served on the East and West banks of St. John included the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home, Twin Oaks Nursing Home, Place DuBourg and various group homes.

Place DuBourg is Swafford’s favorite destination because residents are always gathered outside, eagerly awaiting his arrival.

Meals on Wheels also reached the St. John Parish Council on Aging’s entire list of clients, several call-ins for home deliveries and employees working holiday hours at local stores and the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Swafford said several of his eight drivers and 60 volunteers have been with him since Meals on Wheels started in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, donations and sponsorships continue to grow.

“We increased the number of meals by 200 since 2017,” Swafford said. “We’ve really had a lot of support. It’s truly a community effort because, without community, this wouldn’t be possible. It just feels really good to help someone that might not be as fortunate on such a special day.”

Swafford is grateful for Artis Williams and St. John United Way, who made it possible to increase the number of meals served this year.

Other consistent donations come courtesy of Marathon Petroleum Company, New Wine Christian Fellowship, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, Rising Star Baptist Church, E & L Construction, Butler Law Firm and Nina Santa Marina with the Cheffen Wilson Milton Foundation.

St. John Parish Councilman Larry Sorapuru Jr. has donated his time to Meals on Wheels for the past three years since learning about it from one of Swafford’s co-workers.

“It is such a great feeling to be part of a group that works to help lift the spirit of those who are alone and in need,” Sorapuru said.

Swafford is seen at his workplace, A Cut Above in LaPlace, with clients J.C. Jackson Jr. and J.C. Jackson III.

He said Swafford is a patient person who is clearly passionate about helping others.

“Mr. Swafford is very low-key and very detailed in wanting to help get people involved,” Sorapuru said.

“He wants to make sure people understand what he is doing and why he is doing it.”

Swafford, an avid Christian, said giving back is a way to give thanks to God.

Meals on Wheels also honors Swafford’s father, the late John Swafford Sr.

On Thanksgiving Day 16 years ago, Swafford prepared to throw away his Thanksgiving leftovers when his father reminded him not everyone is blessed with food during the holidays.

The father and son decided on a whim to walk door-to-door in the Reserve Housing Project to deliver the leftovers.

Swafford Sr. passed away in 2006, but Swafford keeps his father’s memory alive with every Thanksgiving meal delivered by U-Haul trucks.

To help defray costs, Swafford founded Friends of St. John for tax-deductible donations. For more information, call 504-782-3990.