Inside Report for Jan. 9, 2013

EBR hunger didn’t end with holidays

By Steven Ward

Even though the holidays are over, the missions of charities such as the Baton Rouge Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank never stop.

People, as a general rule, seem to be more charitable around the holidays.

There are always people who volunteer their time, service or money to assist charitable organizations year round, but there seems to be a huge uptick around the holidays.

Michael Acaldo, chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said he had so many volunteers wanting to volunteer their time during Thanksgiving and Christmas, that he had to turn people away.

“Let’s say we would get about 100 calls from people wanting to volunteer during a two-to-three-day period around Christmas,” Acaldo said. “After Christmas, that number will drop to maybe 15 calls during the same time.”

Still, Acaldo said, St. Vincent de Paul has come a long way over the last 20 years when the normal volunteer drop after Christmas would sink to zero.

“It’s such a change now in this community. People always want to give back,” Acaldo said.

The St. Vincent de Paul Catholic charity serves two meals a day, 365 days a year at its Dining Hall, providing a much-needed service for the indigent in Baton Rouge.

Volunteers and employees at the group’s dining facility, off Florida Street, serve a hot daily lunch and prepare brown bag dinners to hand out at 3 p.m.

St. Vincent de Paul served 236,075 meals in 2012, according to preliminary data.

Volunteers can give their time by preparing and serving a home-cooked meal for the temporary residents of the group’s men shelters or the women and children’s shelter. Volunteers also can serve in one of the group’s thrift stores, sorting books, or at the main facility’s pharmacy.

Acaldo said volunteers can also spend their time reading to or sharing a craft with children at the group’s women and children’s shelter.

The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank is another local nonprofit targeting hunger in the community.

Kenissa McKay, public relations and special-event coordinator for the food bank, said her agency definitely saw an uptick in volunteers and donations during the holidays.

“It’s huge around the holidays,” McKay said.

She said they also see a drop in volunteers after the first of the year.

“The food bank operates like a three-legged stool: It’s food, funds and volunteers, and we always need all three,” McKay said.

The food bank fulfills a wide hunger need locally.

In 2012, the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank distributed 11.5 million pounds of food in its 11-parish service area (Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. James, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana), McKay said. That is the equivalent of more than 9.5 million meals. The numbers are record highs for the food bank, she said.

Volunteers can help sort food in the warehouse or help with administrative work.

Acaldo and McKay said there are opportunities year round to give back.

To volunteer or donate, contact St. Vincent de Paul at (225) 383-7837 or the food bank at (225) 359-9940.

Steven Ward is a general-assignment reporter at The Advocate. He can be reached at sward@theadvocate.com.