By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will once again be at the forefront of serving the needy on Thanksgiving Day in the Baton Rouge area, continuing two traditions that have spanned more than three decades. 

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Volunteers welcomed guests, walked them to their tables and served them a Thanksgiving meal at the River Center on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 2018 at the River Center.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

For the third consecutive year St. Vincent is hosting the Holiday Helpers Thanksgiving Day meal at the Raising Cane River Center. St. Vincent took over managing Holiday Helpers, expected to serve up to 600 meals, three years ago with the caveat that Major Reginald Brown, the long- time coordinator for the event initially began more than 30 years ago, stay on for consulting and assistance.

“We follow his method and plan and build upon it every year,” Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said. “He is fantastic to work with and remains very much involved.”  

St. Vincent will also host its annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Bishop Ott Homeless Shelter, serving the area’s homeless and those who are more comfortable in the quaint setting. Acaldo, who is celebrating his 30th Thanksgiving with St. Vincent, said he expects the center to serve from 500 to 600 meals. The program initially began in 1967.  

“It’s been a great thing for the community and has really made a difference,” he said.  

Acaldo added both meals are open to the public but said the target audience for the River Center are those who are in need, low income, the elderly and those on fixed income.  

“Our focus is if you are going to be at home alone on Thanksgiving and are financially strapped, we would like to see you,” he said. “If you are poor and your poverty is loneliness, we would like to see you too.”  

Preparing close to 1,300 dinners is daunting for the St. Vincent staff, but Acaldo said dining room director Denise Terrance, who coordinates both events, “does a fabulous job.”  

“Previously it was a ton of work but now (with the addition of the Holiday Helpers meal) multiply that many times over,” Acaldo said.  

“Personally, I love this time of year, just thinking of the work we do here, a time for families; it’s rewarding for the staff,” he added, explaining that the time period from Nov. 1-Jan. 15 is “like a fog” because of the holiday season.  

Acaldo noted that since two different populations are being served crossovers, people eating at both places, are few although they would not be denied.  

“There are so many needy people,” he said “Some who come (to the homeless shelter) are mentally ill or suffering from anxiety and other issues, and they are comfortable here.”  

Meals will be served at the River Center from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and at the Bishop Ott Shelter from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.  

TOYS NEEDED  – Thanksgiving also means St. Vincent’s annual toy giveaway is not far away and toys are needed. St. Vincent gives away 3,000 toys, which are all donated annually to approximately 1,500 needy children.  

Anyone wishing to help can bring donated toys to St. Vincent de Paul or any of the St. Vincent retail outlets.