PORT ALLEN — Little Ava Dawn Saucier, 3, always opened her arms wide to love those in her life, said her grandmother, Dawn Fontenot.
On Sunday, the community opened its arms even wider to honor her and her little brother, Jacob Michael, 2.
The siblings and their grandfather, Michael Saucier, died in an Aug. 6, 2010, house fire on Belle River. Their grandmother, Mitzi Saucier, died nearly two weeks later from injuries sustained in the tragedy.
As a way to honor the children, their family created a scholarship fund at Holy Family School in Port Allen to help other children receive a Catholic education.
The first fundraiser, held in December, generated more than $40,000 and provided 11 children scholarships to attend Holy Family this year.
On Sunday, more than 100 volunteers gathered at Holy Family School for the second annual Ava and Jacob Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser where they sold jambalaya dinners and held a silent auction.
As parishioners piled out of the morning Mass at Holy Family Church and crossed the street to the hall, volunteers quickly dished out and delivered plate lunches.
Members of the Knights of Columbus Council 2875 manned the oversized cast-iron pot of jambalaya and directed traffic through the makeshift drive-thru pickup line.
The local Knights of Columbus council, which raises funds for Holy Family School scholarships, partnered with the Saucier family for Sunday’s event, said Alvin Roche, grand knight of the local council.
“It’s all about the kids getting a Catholic education,” Roche said. “This is not a Knights of Columbus function. This is a faith community function for two little angels, Ava and Jacob.”
Ava and Jacob’s parents, Blake and Kristen Saucier, their family members and friends worked alongside volunteers.
Kristen Saucier said the family is grateful to the many volunteers, vendors, people in the church community and the school for their support.
“They’ve inspired so many people to do so much good,” Kristen Saucier said of Ava and Jacob. “It makes me feel blessed to be a part of this community. Everywhere you go there’s so much support.”
The family received another “blessing” six weeks ago with the birth of their daughter, Alaina Ava, Kristen Saucier said.
The family’s reaction to their loss has been a “profound statement” of their faith, said the Rev. David Allen, pastor of Holy Family.
“It truly is a living witness of taking up your cross,” Allen said. “It’s brought people together up and down the west side of the river.”
The family is inspirational, said Vincel Simpson, a third-grade teacher at Holy Family School.
“I just think it’s an incredible …,” Simpson paused and rubbed the raised flesh on her right arm. “It gives me goose bumps. It’s an incredible display of faith and a beautiful way to honor their children and help other children.”
And it is faith that has carried the family through the past year, Kristen Saucier said.
“The closer I am to God, the closer I am to them,” Saucier said. “I live my life serving Him and others.”
She also finds strength in sharing stories of her children as a way to keep their memories alive.
In the parish hall, a small patchwork quilt held photos of big sister Ava with her little brother Jacob.
“They glowed,” said Dawn Fontenot of her two grandchildren. “They gave all the love they were given back in spades.”
Ava was a protective big sister who was “loud and wonderful,” laughed Fontenot.
“Ava was the kind of child that welcomed people and life with open arms,” she said.
Jacob loved playing outdoors and had dimples that continue to light up his grandmother’s eyes.
“It’s renewed our faith to see the blessings that have come from this horrible event,” Fontenot said. “It’s a testament to everyone’s faith.”
“And to them,” added Kristen Saucier.
The mother and daughter wiped tears from their eyes.
“Exactly,” Fontenot said. “To Ava and Jacob most of all.”