BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The evening meal is when many families get together each day and March's Power of 9 super volunteers are people who swing into action for supper.
When we arrived at St. John the Evangelist in Prairieville, the youth battalion was already on the move.
"Corn first, corn, corn, corn....," A tall blonde-haired blur called the shots as the car was being loaded. It was like a jigsaw puzzle trying to fit all the food into the back of one hatchback. "Who's got cookies?" Ashley Bourgeois asked.
A teenage boy with a very large white box carried the cookies. Bourgeois tried to fit the box in flatly and it one, so she slid it in sideways. "It's only cookies," she whispered to the camera.
Bourgeois is the youth minister and outreach director for St. John the Evangelist. The youth group and their adult sponsors circled up for final words before they all loaded into three personal cars for a foray into Baton Rouge famously unpredictable rush hour traffic. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon, but instead of heading out of Baton Rouge, they headed in. Depending on the day that may or not be an advantage.
The group joined hands and Deacon Randy Clement offered a prayer. "Help us all to understand the needs of the homeless," he prayed.
They loaded into cars and went to downtown Baton Rouge's St. Vincent de Paul Men's homeless shelter.
St. John the Evangelist has more than one Manna Giver's group. It's a name St. Vincent de Paul gives people who volunteer to feed the residents at their three overnight shelters. The charity kitchen is not open at night.
DeShay Martin of St. Vincent de Paul said Manna Givers is a critical need at the homeless shelters, and so far, church groups and others have managed to take care of almost every night of the next several months. They will obligate and keep the date as a regular volunteer job.
As a Southern Baptist preacher's daughter, I know that Manna of the program's title, is mentioned in the Bible and the Quran as food that God provided to the Israelites in the desert. That night, the food was for the men's downtown shelter at St. Vincent de Paul.
The cars pulled up in the shelter parking lot, and St. Vincent de Paul employees ask if they needed people to carry stuff in and heard a great big "No, we've got it!"
Ashley Bourgeois' husband Blake is a very good cook, and as the dishes were removed and carried inside, he grabbed a giant lidded pan as big as a sink and carried it in. He would be whipping up a pasta dish that smelled heavenly. What do you call it? He doesn't know, he just throws in ingredients he has. So I call it "Blake's Rotini."
As the room was prepared for the residents, the adults showed the kids how they would serve and what each "diner" would get. It looked like Rotini and Corn Maque Chou, salad, bread, and a cookie. Conversation warms as the men dug into the meal.
Deacon Clement is director of St. John's Ministries. He wore a festive red fake carnation stuck behind one ear that night. Clement said the church has about 200 Manna Givers volunteers, including the youth group.
"It helps them to be very grateful for what they have and also makes them aware that even in our own community we have a bunch of people that don't get to eat 3 meals a day," Clement said.
Before they left the church that night, at least one teen said she'd never really talked one on one to a homeless person. In South Louisiana, it became clear, that sharing good food is always a perfect way to get to know someone.
Capital One Bank, the United Way's Volunteer Center and WAFB are proud honor outstanding volunteers in our community. If you have nominations, send them to the Capital Area United Way.