By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Cars lined Gus Young Avenue as St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge dished out jambalaya lunches seasoned with faith, hope and charity to some of the area’s poorest residents on May 8.  

 

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Volunteers and staff were busy handing out and receiving words of thanks from drivers as they pick up jambalaya lunches at St. Paul Church in Baton Rouge on May 8.  Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator  

 

“When I looked at the unemployment figures this morning for the area, it was near 20 percent. In this neighborhood it’s probably closer to 70 percent unemployment,” said St. Paul pastor Father Rick Andrus SVD as he scooped jambalaya into Styrofoam containers. “That’s why we needed to do something like this.”  

“A lot of people right now are furloughed or even if they are not, we are able to provide an opportunity for them to get out of the house. And it was all done by drive-through, nobody got out of their car and it (meal) was handed to them,” he added, noting that all recommended safe practices were used in preparing, serving and handing out 300 meals, which also included chips, a cookie and a drink.  

When St. Paul sent out the call for volunteers, parishioners quickly answered. They distributed flyers in the neighborhoods, assembled bags the night before and showed up early the next morning to cook and set up for the lunch.  

“Everyone joined in,” said “the jambalaya man” Reginald Morrison Jr., one of the cooks who arrived at 6:30 a.m. to begin preparation. Morrison said volunteers went to several stores to buy supplies because each business had limits on purchases.  

“It is hard times right now and to see them drive off with a smile felt good to me,” said Morrison.  

His son, Reginald “Reggie” Morrison III, 18, who joined the Knights of Peter Claver about a year ago and held the signs directing the long line of cars to drive to the back of the church, said he enjoyed serving alongside his father and giving back to his community. 

Richard Johnson, whose entry into the church through the RCIA program had been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, was happy to jump in and serve as “jack of all trades” during the meal giveaway.  

Raised Baptist, Johnson said his wife and family are Catholic, so he and extended family members who lived with them watched St. Paul’s livestreamed Sunday Masses. Johnson’s wife printed out the readings and Johnson mirrored the Masses from his smartphone to the TV.  

Paul Stewart has been calling St. Paul “home” since moving from New Orleans to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  

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Father Rick Andrus SVD and Reggie Morrison dish out jambalaya into Styrofoam containers.   

 

“I was ‘fishing around’ for a church’ and I popped into this church and it reminded me of my old church in New Orleans, St. Raymond-St. Leo the Great, and I’ve been here ever since,” said Stewart, also a KPC member who serves as lector, eucharistic minister, “bottle washer” and in many other capacities. He enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with other St. Paul community members. 

Kevin Stewart is not a blood relative of Stewart, but is a member of the St. Paul faith family.  

“When they call I’ll come. I’m dedicated,” said Stewart, who also serves as lector.  

Nancy Ball, who coordinates the eucharistic ministers ministry and ministry to the sick, said, “We miss everyone,” and added the giveaway allowed her to see some faces she had not seen in a while.  

“The highlight for me was seeing the smiles on their faces. They didn’t have to worry about where their next meal was coming from. It allowed them to get out and get some fresh air. They are under a lot of stress,” said Ball.  The lunch recipients expressed their appreciation.  

“It’s such a blessing that St. Paul is doing this for us,” said St. Paul member Sonja Bowers, who was with her mother and St. Paul member Althea LeDuff.   

Bowers noted the parish has suffered the loss of some of its own members because of the coronavirus.  

She added, “It’s been tough for people.”  

Brenda Brown, who lives in the St. Paul neighborhood, said the church’s continual outreach to the community is a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people.  

“Thank God they are here to help,” said Brown smiled. “It says in the Bible that God does not forsake those who seek him. He is true to his word.”  

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Jambalaya filled containers were brought by a grocery cart to a table where volunteers inserted them into bags also containing drinks, chips and cookies.