Feeding bodies, nourishing souls: Volunteers & elected officials distribute blessings to 400 families

Published 12:55 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2021

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RESERVE — All hands were on deck last week at East St. John High School in Reserve as community volunteers and elected officials from across Southeast Louisiana joined forces to distribute hurricane relief supplies to 400 families impacted by Hurricane Ida.

Families received hot lunches, non-perishable food, hygiene items, cleaning supplies and $25 Walmart gift cards to help ease their burden in the aftermath of the storm.

Blessed to Be a Blessing founder Eliza Eugene was overwhelmed by the need she saw across St. John the Baptist Parish following the storm. According to the U.S. Census report, 17.4% of residents lived in poverty prior to Hurricane Ida, and the tragedy has brought additional financial strain by displacing families from their homes and disrupting employment.

Blessed to be a Blessing partnered with Cargill, Feed the Children, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, St. John Parish District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools to provide relief.

Chief Justice John L. Weimer, Senator Ed Price and Representative Randal L. Gaines also had their boots on the ground during the event to serve the people in their district.

Chief Justice Weimer and District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut shared the same sentiments – they wanted to be part of an initiative that would not only feed people’s bodies, but also nourish their souls.

Weimer said some volunteers started working as early as 5 a.m. to prepare food for those impacted by Ida. Families who drove through the event were assured there are many people who care about their well-being during this difficult time.

“St. John is part of the district that I serve. As a judge, my first responsibility is to serve the people. I believe you should stay close to the communities you serve,” Weimer said.

Dinvaut said there has been a “whole lot of love” shown to the St. John Parish community. Everyone had a part in the success of Thursday’s giveaway, from those who organized the event to the parish workers who saved the day by bringing in equipment to unload pallets of supplies.

Dinvaut added that each family received a public information handout from the Louisiana District Attorneys Association providing valuable resources on contractor fraud. The handout included the Dos and Don’ts of hiring a contractor, as well as informational resources such as the mobile app of the Louisiana State Licensing Board of Contractors.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore’s team prepared hot meals for families who may be unable to cook or purchase food in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Moore said the East Baton Rouge community found itself in a similar situation with widespread property damage after the historic 2016 floods. As members of the District Attorney’s Office carried meals to families in the vehicles, Moore hoped the small act of kindness would help lift people’s spirits.

Moore’s office has been active since Hurricane Ida devastated the region. Prior to the event in St. John Parish, his team fed 600 members of the Louisiana National Guard in Tangipahoa Parish.

Representative Ed Price said the Hurricane Ida response is not a one-day situation.

“We’re going to be here for a while,” Price said. “It’s very sad that this happened, but in the meantime, we have to make sure that we help people with getting food, getting water and getting the things they need to get back on their feet.”

Price noted that the local school system has been especially hard hit, and he committed to working with local officials to support children in St. John Parish.

Community partner Cargill has been a constant presence along with Blessed to Be a Blessing for events that nourish children and families, from annual back-to-school extravaganzas to Thanksgiving turkey giveaways that reach hundreds.

“It was easy to reach out to Eliza and put everything in motion because we already have that connection and that partnership,” said Cargill spokesperson Natasha Bates.

It was just as easy to secure company volunteers for the event. The employees’ love for service was represented by the hearts they wore on the backs of their shirts during last week’s event.

“Anytime we do anything in the community, our employees are always the first to volunteer. I never have to beg anyone because our employees are all about community,” Bates said. “It’s always all hands on deck. They can work an overnight shift and still want to come out and help the next morning.”