St. Alphonsus parishioners give back

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

On a hot, sunny, June morning cars lined up in front of the St. Alphonsus food pantry off Frenchtown Road in Greenwell Springs.  

st. alphonsus photo 4.tif

Loading a vehicle with food are, from left, Mark Legendre, Melba Hanks, Juanita Beard and Mike Turuett. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator


Sweaty volunteers descended upon the cars and packed the vehicles with food supplies. The drivers pulled away with their cars carrying a heavier load but lighter hearts.  

Volunteers were very busy that day. Before closing due to COVID, the food pantry served an average of 40-52 households per week. On their first day back, they served 82 households another sign that life is slowly returning to church parishes in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

On June 17 the St. Alphonsus chapter of St. Vincent de Paul re-opened its food pantry, allowing those in need to restock their refrigerators and pantries.  

Recipients received boxes filled with frozen meat, dried goods, fresh fruit and desserts provided by the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  

“It’s been amazing,” said Deborah Johnson, president of the St. Alphonsus St. Vincent de Paul Chapter, about the response of volunteers. “There is a need in the community for it, so we were waiting for the right time.”  

Myra Berry received help from the SVDP council for the first time. She is struggling with only part-time work and suffering from memory issues that only adds to the complications she is facing. 

“I think this is the Lord taking me by the hand. I thought that on the way here,” said Berry.  

People had been calling the church asking when the food pantry would reopen, so after Louisiana entered into Phase 2 of reopening, Johnson and Jackie Guidry, who oversees the food pantry, set the date for distribution.  

“It was a little scary getting things started. But they were champions,” said Guidry.

She and Johnson noted that most of the volunteers were senior citizens facing their own worries about being exposed to the coronavirus. 

But furrowed brows of concern were replaced by smiling eyes and mouths beneath the masks as the volunteers brought relief to the financially strapped.  

st. alphonsus photo 10.tif

Distributing supplies are, from left, Lexie Lemoine, Jaunita Beard, Kristen Pullman and Mike Truett.  


“I missed everyone,” said Guidry, who is vice president of the council. “I know there were a lot of people hurting and we weren’t able to help them.”  

Mark Legendre, grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council #2807 of St. Alphonsus, said generosity comes naturally to St. Alphonsus parishioners. He noted the KCS recently served 250 drive-by pickup jambalaya lunches to KC members and their families, City of Central Council on Aging members, St. Alphonsus Church staff, City Central Police, Central Station Sheriff deputies and Central firemen. 

“This (distribution) absolutely helps the people of the community. They need our help and our prayers,” Legendre said.  

There are many heartbreaking stories.  

“We have many people who come who don’t have jobs,” said Juanita Beard, whose granddaughter Kyla helped load milk into vehicles. “There’s one woman with six children. Her husband deserted her and she’s trying to raise them on her own.”  

Melba Banks, a recently retired bank manager, was naturally drawn to the ministry. She often worked with people facing financial difficulties, helping them to consolidate equity, find debt relief and pay their utility bills. She noted finances can plummet from things such as illness.  

“Every day I thanked God that I had some way to help them,” said Banks.  







Pastries were a sweet treat for those coming to the food pantry. 


Rose Callahan said through the SVDP chapter she sees people whose lives have been turned upside down by their financial struggles.  

“I meet people who have applied for food stamps and were turned down. They didn’t even know why,” said Callahan.  

“It’s helping out a lot. My wife and I have both lost our jobs,” said Andre Brown. “We are trying to get unemployment (benefits) but have not gotten them yet. The church is a blessing, we could not do it without them.” 

Sheila Bailey is retired and raising an 11-year-old grandson.  

“It’s important for him to have nutritious food,” said Bailey, who walks with the assistance of a cane. “I have a bad heart and can’t go to the store.”  

Sharon Walker is currently raising four foster children, including pre-teens and teens, on a limited income.  

“My mom passed away when I was six, so I went through foster care. I know how it is for foster children, they’re crying for their mom. I felt it was time for me to give back.  

“I’m going to say my prayers and the word of God is going to get us through this,” Walker said. “It’s going to get better, I trust in him. I talk to God every morning, and the people here are a sign that it’s going to be okay.” 

st. alphonsus photo 7.tif

The St. Alphonsus Church in Greenwell Springs Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society recently re-opened its food pantry after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Food recipients and volunteers were happy to come together again. 

st. alphonsus photo 1.tif

Debbie Johnson, president of the St. Alphonsus Church in Greenwell Springs Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, directs drivers to the food pantry to pick up supplies. 

st. alphonsus photo 3.tif

Kyla Beard gives out pastries to people in need visiting the food pantry at St. Alphonsus Church in Baton Rouge food pantry. 

st. alphonsus photo 6.tif

Ollie Brown, left, and Joe Digerolamo get food out of the refrigerator to give to people coming to receive food.