Stepping up in a time of need: Community helps former Bayou Steel employees

Published 8:53 am Wednesday, October 16, 2019

LAPLACE — The St. John the Baptist community has risen to the call of need in the weeks following the unexpected layoff of more than 350 Bayou Steel employees. Neighbors have stood hand-in-hand, collaborating to provide job opportunities, food donations, financial assistance, free haircuts and whatever else is needed to ease the burden of families whose lives have been flipped upside down from the sudden loss.

Michael Spriggs was among hundreds of former Bayou Steel employees to visit New Wine Christian Fellowship last week. He left with a cart filled with fresh produce and drinks for his family, a sight that inspired hope within him and many others.

“We really appreciate everybody looking out for us and the community helping us,” Spriggs said. “It’s a blessing. They don’t have to do it, but they are doing it, and they’ve helped a lot of households out.”

The recent food and gift card distribution was a collaborative effort between St. John United Way, CRC Global Solutions, Louisiana Federal Credit Union and the St. John Pastors Coalition.

Georgia Keller is one of the volunteers who assisted in last week’s giveaway at New Wine Christian Fellowship.

New Wine Christian Fellowship, St. John United Way, Rising Star Baptist Church, Beacon Light of LaPlace, Voice of Truth, New Foundation for Life FGBC, River City Church and Beech Grove Baptist Church contributed a combined total of more than $7,000 for a newly established Bayou Steel Employee Relief Fund.

The credit union assisted in providing monetary gift cards for former employees.

Three truckloads of food donations arrived at New Wine Christian Fellowship the day of the distribution. After former Bayou Steel workers took what was needed for their families, the remaining food items were distributed to other community members in need.

One former Bayou Steel employee said the experience was as humbling as it was gratifying.

“It’s a blessing that the community is compassionate to the needs of ordinary people like us,” he said. “We’re nobody special. We just lost our jobs, but they took the time and had the hearts to help us in our time of need. It’s very, very heartfelt. I can’t thank the community enough for extending themselves to us like that.”

The worker said the layoff is a major hit that impacts everyone in the community to some degree, whether directly or indirectly.

New Wine Christian Fellowship Pastor Neil Bernard said it’s important to “put feet to prayers” by helping people in word and in deed.

“The Bible tells us that if we see someone in need and it’s in our ability to help them, that we are to help them,” Bernard said. “It’s one thing to say I’m praying for you, but it’s another to give you some money to put food on the table.”
Bernard was grateful and pleasantly surprised to see several Bayou Steel employees show up early to assist volunteers in unloading donations from the trucks.

“So many have been so grateful, and it’s not just us,” Bernard said. “There have been so many people in the community who have reached out in their time of need. It’s wonderful to see the community come together.”

Preceding the food distribution was a free home-cooked meal served to approximately 75 former Bayou Steel employees and their immediate families at Bot’s Place, located at 2810 W. Airline Highway in LaPlace. All employees who showed up were given at least two plates to take home.

Colbert “Bot” Clark assisted in a free lunch giveaway for Bayou Steel employees last week at Bot’s Place.

Meals included baked chicken, rice dressing, greenbeans with ham, chef’s salad, cake and a variety of drink options from homemade tea to punch.

St. John Parish attorneys Tomy Acosta and Dean DeFrancesch, St. John Clerk of Court Eliana DeFrancesch and Bot’s Place owner Colbert Clark hosted the event.

Clark said he and other organizers received messages of appreciation following the event. While not all who received meals are able to pay it forward, Clark said it is important to give back anyway, by any means possible.

“Life doesn’t stop for them,” Clark said. “Everybody that was here appreciated the gesture that was done. We were pleased, and it came from the heart. I don’t mind giving back. Whenever it hits my heart, I just take off with it.”

Colbert has participated in other giving back efforts, from a Mother’s Day brunch to an event for cancer survivors. He said he is the proud product of the mindset that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and he wants to extend the same help to others in the community.

“We want them to know we support them and they are not alone,” Clark said.