Thanksgiving Day celebrated with pre-cooked meal giveaway

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

LAPLACE — With countless St. John the Baptist Parish residents still without functioning kitchens in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Blessed to Be a Blessing and Cargill modified their annual Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway to meet the needs of the community.
Blessed to Be a Blessing founder Eliza Eugene announced that 4,000 hot meals including turkeys and all the trimmings will be distributed during the sixth annual Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway. The drive-thru event will begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) at East St. John Preparatory Academy, located at 400 Ory Drive in LaPlace, and will end once all food has been distributed. While past Thanksgiving giveaways have been voucher-based, Eugene said this year’s event is open to all St. John Parish residents on a first-come, first-served basis. Proof of residency is required in the form of an ID or utility bill.
This year also marks the first time Blessed to Blessing and Cargill have partnered with disaster relief nonprofit Mercy Chefs to prepare Thanksgiving meals.
Ready-made “blessing baskets” contain turkey, yams, dressing and all of the trimmings to serve a family of four. Each vehicle can receive up to two boxes – enough to feed eight people. The food is packaged so it can be easily reheated in a microwave at home.
The first 400 families in line will additionally receive $25 Walmart gift cards.
“In the past, we’ve given out 1,000 turkeys and all the trimmings, uncooked. This year, because of the hurricane and the devastation that our community is experiencing, Blessed to Be a Blessing and Cargill are bringing in Mercy Chefs to prepare all of the food,” Eugene said, comparing the event to a “Piccadilly in St. John Parish.”
Volunteers started prepping as early as Tuesday this week to have 4,000 meals cooked and packaged in time for Thanksgiving Day.
Since the Thanksgiving event began six years ago, Eugene has found inspiration from Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
“We still wanted to be able to reach out an let the community know that Blessed to Be a Blessing and Cargill care, and we will forever continue to try to do our part on the very special day of Thanksgiving. We are very thankful to be in a position to be a blessing,” Eugene said. “We understand the pulse of our community, and we are trying to meet the needs as best as we know how.”
John Kimmel, the new plant manager for Cargill Reserve and Westwego, is thankful to be part of an event with such a broad community impact. Each year, the Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway broadens Cargill’s mission to nourish the world.
“Cargill has been a part of the Reserve, Louisiana community for over 40 years. While we have held Thanksgiving turkey events for some time, we knew this year was different—and we needed to do something more as Hurricane Ida recovery efforts continue and so many remain dislocated from their homes,” Kimmel said.
“That is why we partnered with Blessed to be a Blessing and Mercy Chefs to not just provide turkeys, but instead reach 4,000 community members with full Thanksgiving meals. We are grateful to be a part of St. John the Baptist Parrish and hope we are able to make Thanksgiving a little brighter for our neighbors.”
Representatives from Cargill initiated the collaboration with Mercy Chefs during a relief distribution that took place during the nonprofit group’s second trip to Southeast Louisiana post-Hurricane Ida.
“They told us what they usually do for Thanksgiving and brought it to our attention that frozen turkeys wasn’t the blessing they wanted to give to people this year with so many without ovens,” recounted Gary Leblanc, co-founder and CEO of Mercy Chefs. “We learned that so many people in the LaPlace area are still in trailers, small apartments or hotels, and they don’t have a kitchen. The only way for them to do a Thanksgiving meal is for us to make it microwavable. We’ve adapted what we do to fit the specific needs of the community this Thanksgiving.”
Over the past 15 years, Mercy Chefs has responded to 140 disasters in 25 states and nine foreign countries, serving more than 18.5 million meals.
Leblanc spent 20 years in the hotel restaurant industry in New Orleans. He was living in Virginia when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Upon returning to New Orleans to volunteer with organizations doing relief work, he recognized there was a better way to feed people in the aftermath of a disaster. Mercy Chefs is dedicated to providing high quality, professionally prepared food following all food safety and sanitation protocols that would be found in a commercial kitchen.
“We believe that you can rob dignity and respect with bad food, but we believe equally strong that you can create or maintain dignity and respect with a quality meal for someone and serving it with love and the intent to provide hope,” Leblanc said.
In addition to cooking to the LaPlace distribution, Mercy Chefs is also sending Thanksgiving meals to Kenner, New Orleans, Marrero, Houma, Lafitte and other areas impacted by Ida.