By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving Day, Denise Terrance of Baton Rouge was coordinating the finishing touches for a typical holiday feast with turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and desert.  


Hundreds of volunteers helped serve meals at the St. Vincent de Paul dining room on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22.  Photos by Bonnie Van | The Catholic Commentator 


But, unlike most people who were cooking for loved ones, Terrance was preparing for almost 2,000 people at two separate locations in Baton Rouge: the Raising Cane’s River Center and the St. Vincent de Paul dining room. It’s something she has done for the past two years since SVDP took over the event at the River Center from Holiday Helpers.  

“It can be overwhelming but you can’t think about it,” admitted Terrance, who relies on kitchen staff and volunteers to help.  

For these events, cooks prepared 110 turkeys and hundreds of pounds of cornbread dressing, potatoes and green beans. Terrance, who has two adult children and seven grandchildren living in Maryland, worked for Child Nutrition Services for the Diocese of Baton Rouge before taking over the SVDP dining room 15 years ago.  

“My thing has always been food and the love of children and the love of people,” she said. “I love what I do, I love taking care of people. It’s not a job, it’s a mission.”  

Once the cooking was done and the serving began, Terrance had just one goal: to make sure each guest felt special and welcomed for this holiday of thanksgiving. She feels so strongly about it that she would love others who provide Thanksgiving meals to join forces with SVDP at the River Center.  


At St. Vincent de Paul, guests were given the opportunity to shop for clothes and food after the meal. 


“It’s a wonderful thing to be giving out dinners, but if they would collaborate with us, then we could do so much,” said Terrance. “(Guests) could come inside, feel the love, feel welcomed, have a delicious meal sitting with people and talking instead of just getting a to-go plate and eating by themselves.”  

There were scores of volunteers from the community ready to serve at the River Center. They included church members, Girl Scout troops, cadets from the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program, individuals and many area community service groups.  

At the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room, the scene was the same but because of limited seating, the line of patrons stretched almost a block from the front door. And, in the courtyard were tents filled with bags of toiletries, clothes, shoes, canned goods and fresh fruit for guests to take with them.  

“We tried this (the tents) a few years ago and it does two things for us,” said Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Baton Rouge. “One, we only have 120 seats to serve 600 meals and that’s kind of a challenge and so we want to serve as many people in as short of a time as we can. Second, by giving someone a gift – a knit cap or a pair of gloves or a coat or whatever it may be that they need this holiday season – it’s a win-win situation. People are excited to see what they’re going to get, they get something they need, they get a hot nutritious meal and they just can’t beat it.”  

“It’s not about giving them the meal, it’s about giving them the love on that day,” emphasized Terrance.  



Denise Terrance, who operates the kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul, was also in charge of meal preparations at the Raising Cane’s River Center.  


Volunteers from many community service groups and churches helped staff the dining room of St. Vincent de Paul.  


Left to Right Baton Rouge community and educational leaders participated in a turkey carving contest at St. Vincent de Paul in anticipation of the big Thanksgiving feast.  


Volunteers from around Baton Rouge and beyond joined in the celebration at the River Center on Thanksgiving Day. 


Pictured, from left, Jamila Ott, Madison Harmon and Alexis Bailey, all of Baton Rouge, volunteered to help out at the River Center.  


Volunteers welcomed guests, walked them to their tables and served them a Thanksgiving meal at the River Center.