Hand It On: St. Vincent de Paul Thanksgiving

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Exactly what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Someone bitterly told me, "Nothing, since my house flooded and I cannot get back in until after the holidays."

The particular person who responded so thanklessly did, in fact, lose everything in the flood. However, this person is currently living comfortably at a relative's home. This person has the luxury of sleeping in a clean bed, has a great job that provides income for living expenses such as food, water and even entertainment, has adequate health care, has their own automobile and their home is being repaired through insurance money and FEMA gr ants. In the big picture, this person has much to be thankful for.

I digress ...

WAFB's Hand It On program always earmarks some funds for donation to St. Vincent de Paul at different times of the year. As I've mentioned in previous posts, it is impossible to give to every single person in need, even though we'd love to do exactly that. So, to compensate for not being able to give individually, we support organizations - such as St. Vincent de Paul - that do give directly to people in need.

St. Vincent de Paul supplies daily meals for the needy in our community. And, each Thanksgiving it goes overboard to prepare a special holiday feast so people less fortunate can enjoy a 'home cooked' meal during this special time when they would otherwise have nowhere to go.

One of the organizations St. Vincent de Paul depends on for some of its resources is the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. And, since the Food Bank was destroyed by the August floods, it would stand to reason some organizations that depend on the Food Bank for their food supplies are hurting this year.

Such is the case with St. Vincent de Paul. Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul charities explains.

"Yes, it does affect us," Acaldo said. "They're such a great community partner. And so some of the items we would typically get from the Food Bank we're not receiving now. So, that puts an additional stress, especially with the number of meals that we've been serving."

He explained a record number of people will be fed this year by St. Vincent de Paul.

"This year, just in the dining room, we're going to go over a quarter of a million meals this year. That's an all-time record for us. And, of course, with the flood and devastation, that's really what's going to put us over that record number. But, I tell you, this is a Thanksgiving we'll all remember," Acaldo added.

During my visit with Michael in the soon-to-be jam packed dining room at St. Vincent de Paul, it was my intent to donate this week's Hand It On financial gift of $300 to help with the holiday meal.

Well, as would be the case, I told Michael as I handed him three brand new, crisp 100 dollar bills, "I have $300 for you right here to kind of help supplement what the Food Bank is having trouble helping you with."

"We really want to tell you how thankful we are for this gift. You're handing it on and what we're going to do is we're going to hand it on. We're going to spend this on some yams and cornbread stuffing. Those are two things we desperately need right here before Thanksgiving. We're literally going to the store and going to really make a difference. God Bless you, Brandon and everyone," Acaldo said with pride.

Now, back to the thankless man living temporarily with relatives. I hope he reads this post.

After I visited with Michael at St. Vincent de Paul, I hung around for a while and got to speak with three people who will benefit from that hot meal Thanksgiving morning. Charles Liner, a retired private security officer and Robert and Jolene Barnett. Robert is an unemployed concrete worker.

"Well, being able to come to a place like this for a meal, a hot meal is refreshing," Liner said. "Otherwise, I'll be eating out of the garbage cans as I have in the past. And, eating out of the trash cans ain't one of the things that I look forward to."

Robert Barnett agreed.

"I just recently got out from under a bridge and into a motel room," he explained. "It's just, times are really hard right now. It means a lot to come here and eat a hot meal instead of, you know, going in trash cans or going on the side of the road begging for food. It's really special that you've got people who care and who like to help the homeless and the needy and give them a hot meal."

Robert and Jolene Barnett never, ever believed they would be homeless and literally sleeping beneath the interstate.

"You have your homeless people who just, who basically was doing good at one time and then just everything collapsed on them. And, they have nowhere to go. And, people that live under the bridge and are homeless and hungry. It could happen to anyone. You just never see it coming," Robert said, near tears as his own reality surfaces yet again.

"Bathing was coming from the river," Charles Liner interjected. "Our food was coming from the river. Like my brother just said, anyone can fall in this position, even multi-millionaires. You can be very rich one minute, but when something happens, you know, you never see it coming."

Denise Terrance is the dining room director for St. Vincent de Paul. She's been there more than 12 years and has served and gotten to know many of the needy in our community.

"Holidays are especially hard anyway," Terrance said. "The most important thing is that they know that we're here for them. Not just to feed them, but to take care of the total body. The love they feel when they come here and the experience just gives them a sense of joy."

I was humbled. I have so much to be thankful for, yet at times am ungrateful. I, at times, neglect to recognize how very, very well I have it. And, in speaking with those less fortunate than me, understand now how very quickly I could lose it all.

There are so many things most of us take for gr anted (a simple burger and fries or a clean bed). I challenge each of us to take inventory of what we have been blessed with and to be truly thankful this Thanksgiving.

Remember, as bad as you think you have it (living with relatives, etc.), there are those who have much, much less.

Be blessed my friends. Be blessed.

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