By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Alex Ezell, a senior at St. Michael the Archangel School in Baton Rouge, helped his mom and dad unload trays of pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw and carry them into the Sweet Dreams Family Shelter in Baton Rouge.  

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Alex Ezell, a student at St. Michael High School, helps his parents Ron and Traci Ezell, serve dinner at the Sweet Dreams Shelter.  Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The family was preparing to feed 40 residents through the Manna Givers program at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The community service was part of Ezell’s high school curriculum but it’s also been a part of the Ezell tradition for several years, when Tyler Ezell, now a college student, was a student at SMHS.  

“It opened my eyes to (everything),” said Alex. “Before I got into high school I didn’t realize the serious situation that it was (regarding homelessness). And then I got to realize that people can still be happy even in that situation.”  

Traci Ezell, Alex’s mother, said she believes volunteering in the past helped both of her sons understand that “life isn’t always rosy.”  

“One of the situations I remember was there was a gentleman who had just separated from his wife and Tyler said, ‘Mom, how could it be that he has a full-time job but he’s there?’ I said, ‘Well, not all families can support two households,’ ” Traci recalled.  

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Alex Ezell helps unload food to be served for dinner at the Sweet Dreams Shelter. 

 

Serving those in need is the mission of Manna Givers, according to Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of SVDP. Manna Givers is a program that provides a sign-up schedule for individuals and groups to provide meals for up to 40 people at each of the shelters: the Bishop Ott Shelter for Men, the Sweet Dreams Shelter and the SVDP men’s shelter.  

“When you come to serve and you interact with people that are in a difficult spot in their lives, it’s a really powerful connection,” Acaldo stated. “And, I think it is an experience that people never forget. I think it also provides them the opportunity to really come in contact with Christ through the poor, and to grow spiritually. It’s a powerful experience.”  

According to Acaldo, the idea for Manna Givers started 26 years ago by Mercedes Jenkins, a volunteer who said she didn’t have a lot of money but could cook and wanted to bring a home-cooked meal to the men staying at the newly-opened shelter. Another volunteer, Donald Broussard, a parishioner at St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge, was inspired by Jenkins’ efforts and suggested getting others involved, said Acaldo.  

“It’s a great program,” said Acaldo, who acknowledged some people are initially reluctant to get involved. “But once they came and did it, they said, ‘This is great! I’d like to come back.’  

“It’s just a wonderful experience.”  

It’s one the Ezell family, parishioners of St. Theresa of Avila Church in Gonzales, continue to sign up for.  

“It’s important to give to others what you have,” said Alex.