Team players

It’s a busy time of year. But four New Orleans Saints players, along with team co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc, took time out Dec. 18 to help pack lunches for hungry children at Second Harvest Food Bank’s Community Kitchen in Elmwood.

Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, free safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, defensive linebacker Jonathan Casillas and defensive end Cameron Jordan lined up in the gleaming kitchen to fill containers with jambalaya.

Hicks said the players enjoyed seeing the food bank and working alongside other volunteers.

“Around the holidays, it has special meaning to do something to help others, and we know the kids are going to enjoy the food they get at the after-school program,” he said. “We were very excited to be able to able to help in some way, especially around the holiday season.”

It was a day designed to raise awareness for a hunger relief campaign sponsored by Winn-Dixie grocery stores, which have encouraged shoppers to donate at the register, said Terri Kaupp, communications specialist with Second Harvest.

The store also donated an 18-wheeler packed with food, she said.

Winn-Dixie store managers who helped out Dec. 18 were Pete De Rocha, Stephen Kluchin and Dennis Gallagher.

The stores will present a check to Second Harvest at the Saints’ last home game, against the Carolina Panthers, on Sunday.

The lunches were destined for Kids Cafe’s 17 after-school sites in Jefferson Parish and eastern New Orleans where more than 50 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

For Kids Cafe, the kitchen produces 900 to 1,200 supper meals a day, kitchen director Doug Brush said. It’s just one part of a much larger program, he said.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana feeds about 41,800 people every week at churches, schools and senior centers, Kaupp said.

Brush was glad to have the Saints’ assistance at the facility, which depends on community support for both food donations and labor.

“Every day, Monday through Friday, we need volunteers here,” he said.

“Usually they’re not VIPs, but just folks from the community who want to help out.”

Sometimes, Brush said, people will volunteer as a group with co-workers or friends for either the 9 a.m. to noon morning shift or the 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. afternoon shift.

Help also is needed sorting donations in the warehouse nearby, Brush said.

“We’re always in need of volunteers,” he said.

Annette Sisco is Community editor. Reach her at asisco@theadvocate.com.