Second Harvest serves seniors Thanksgiving meal

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKERSecond Harvest and Peoples Health are delivering 1,500 heart-healthy Thanksgiving meals to seniors throughout the New Orleans this week. Annette LeBlanc, vice-president and CAO of Second Harvest, delivers meals to St. John Berchman's Manor residents Rosa M. Henry and Alice Price Tuesday.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKERSecond Harvest and Peoples Health are delivering 1,500 heart-healthy Thanksgiving meals to seniors throughout the New Orleans this week. Annette LeBlanc, vice-president and CAO of Second Harvest, delivers meals to St. John Berchman's Manor residents Rosa M. Henry and Alice Price Tuesday.

NEW ORLEANS — Volunteers delivered 1,500 steaming plates of turkey, cornbread stuffing,and sweet potatoes to seniors across New Orleans on Tuesday for an early taste of Thanksgiving savor

The hot, nutritious meals were plated and packed in the Second Harvest Food Bank community kitchen by about 30 volunteers from People’s Health, the sponsor organization, before being served in a dining room to about 150 residents at St. John Berchman’s Manor in Gentilly.

At six other locations managed by Christopher Homes, a Catholic Charities-run provider of affordable housing for seniors, the meals were delivered to the residents’ apartments, as not all locations have a communal dining room.

Residents also were given a second meal to take home and put in their refrigerators for later.

After all the meals were on the tables at St. John Berchman’s, one of the volunteers ran up to Annette LeBlanc, Second Harvest vice president and chief administrative officer, to tell her that there were several ladies waiting on grace before eating.

Sister Richard Francis, manager of the facilities, answered the call and reminded all to give thanks and keep those with many needs in mind.

Francis said that for the residents, who are primarily living on fixed incomes, the event is not only an opportunity to gather and socialize but also helps to stretch the monthly budget a little further.

Despite a struggling economy, LeBlanc said that when Second Harvest is in need and puts a call out for help, the community always steps up to provide support. “Hunger is a daily disaster for a lot of people we serve,” LeBlanc said, citing the statistic of one in every five children in Louisiana being at risk for hunger.

The organization serves 263,000 individuals across 23 parishes, and of that about 40,000 are seniors.

For the second year of the collaborative holiday effort with People’s Health, LeBlanc said they focused on seniors because “they’ve given so much — they’ve dedicated their lives to us, and sometimes it feels like they are forgotten.”

Amanda Mason, a People’s Health employee who was walking around checking on tables with a cheerful smile, said that she most enjoyed visiting with the residents. “I like talking to people and learning about their lives and what they’ve been through,” Mason said.

LeBlanc described the difficult choices some seniors have to make between essentials like food and medicine. “If we can help in any small way so they don’t have to make that choice, especially around the holidays, that means a lot to us as an organization.”

Francis said that there are other organizations that provide one hot meal a day to the residents at the apartments, shopping trips weekly and monthly deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables. She said the staff and the residents look out for each other and make sure that their neighbors have what they need, especially at the end of the month when limited incomes run low.

Among the diners, the consensus was that the meal, which also included green beans, salad, cranberry sauce and pumpkin and pecan pie, was excellent, particularly the turkey.

Finishing every bite of his meal, resident Louis Joseph said that he has watched Second Harvest as an organization for many years, comparing it to other nonprofits. Going online, Joseph said, he could see exactly how many people the donation amounts would feed. “That’s what I like about it — and it motivates me to support them.”

He also said he found the organization to be full of friendly people — a key attribute for Joseph. “You can have good food but snotty people.’’

Joseph’s dining companion, Henry Randolph, said that his favorite elements of the Thanksgiving holiday were food and family. “I would have to agree with him on that,” Joseph said.