Less than 40 minutes after the Raising Cane’s River Center opened its doors to families on Thanksgiving morning, volunteers had already distributed 1,600 of the 1,800 meals they spent hours preparing in the center’s industrial kitchen.
“The need is so great,” said Denise Terrance, St. Vincent de Paul’s food and beverage director, as she paced between the kitchen and dining area in one of the center’s event spaces, which was set up for more than 100 guests. “We’re just trying to reach everyone, everywhere.”
The nonprofit has a long history of providing families in the Baton Rouge area and beyond with homemade Thanksgiving meals — a service the organization says is increasingly needed as local families battle the toll of a multi-year pandemic and now skyrocketing inflation.
“We expect to see a good number,” St. Vincent de Paul President Michael Acaldo said earlier this morning as he helped organize a smaller giveaway at the organization’s headquarters at St. Vincent de Paul place to set up. “I think that with Thanksgiving ushering in the holiday season,[families]will continue to feel that inflationary pressure on their checkbooks, especially people who are really working paycheck to paycheck.”
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices rose a whopping 9.1% between June 2021 and June 2022. It’s the biggest increase in four decades.
Many Louisiana households, in particular, are struggling to keep up with rising costs for groceries, energy and gas — something that Acaldo says is reflected in the needs of families looking for holiday meals.
“We’ve found that people are having a harder time getting to us,” he said. “While some are still blessed with the ability to afford a vehicle, those who do not have transportation options really depend on our efforts.”
To combat the problem, he explained that each year a percentage of St. Vincent de Paul’s volunteers are tasked with delivering groceries to households that can’t make it to one of the organization’s four food distribution locations.
One of those volunteers is Dlaniger Brown, who has worked for the nonprofit Missing Transportation since the first Thanksgiving event in 1982.
“Most older people, a lot of people in the community, can’t get around,” he said as he stopped for a moment to chat with other volunteers outside of the River Center.
Chelsy Oubre stood alongside Brown and piloted cars full of families using the event’s drive-thru – an option the organization first implemented at the height of the pandemic.
Knowing the stress many feel this holiday season, Oubre said she tries to keep the conversations light.
“It’s more about them venting and talking, getting things off their chests,” she said. “You talk to them about anything they want to talk about.”
Back in the kitchen, the volunteers took a much-needed breather.
As the team began preparing for the next onslaught, Terrance said the organization’s number one goal is to ensure every family in Baton Rouge is fed.
“When you drive through, they say, ‘You’re all a blessing,'” she said. “These are the things that make you want to keep going.”