Dennis and Cynthia Krilla have found it hard to pay their bills ever since their truck broke down in Baton Rouge. They haven’t had a working one since. Between Dennis’ temporary welding jobs, and Cynthia’s part-time work at McDonald’s, there isn’t much money left over for basic needs.
“The cabinets are empty,” Cynthia Krilla said. “We’re trying to get back on our feet.”
But on Easter Sunday, the Krillas and hundreds of others gathered outside the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall as more than 50 volunteers hustled free holiday meals onto platters while the line snaked around the room and out the door.
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The dining hall served 610 meals by the time the lunch was over — one of the largest crowds in recent memory, said the society’s executive director, Michael Acaldo. Almost all of the food was donated from supermarkets and other businesses — including some 50 hams, 108 pounds of peas and 72 pounds of yams, as well as chocolate-, vanilla- and lemon-flavored cakes, Acaldo added. There was also a cake in the shape of a lamb and another in the shape of a cross.
“Today what you’ve seen and witnessed is a lot of love and compassion,” Acaldo said. “Easter is about hope for a better tomorrow. And I think that’s what we put together.”
A volunteer was passing out stuffed animals in wicker baskets, and outside, after the meal was over, others distributed free clothes and other supplies.
The crowd was made up of the young and old, as well as those with families. A few wore suits for the occasion. There was Elvis Graham, who said he had been coming most days for about 20 years, and there was Crystal Kinchen and Joseph Campbell, who brought their one-year-old son, Joseph Jr.
“We came here to eat, but there’s a lot of nice people here when you get to know ’em,” Campbell said.
And there was Elaine Fowler, who came with her daughter and 6-year-old great-grandson and has relied on St. Vincent de Paul for various services over the last four decades.
“I’m not able to take him out,” she said of her great-grandson, “so I brought him here. (The shelter) means a lot. It helps a lot of people.”
And there was Christopher Wesley, 29, a Southern University student who relies on the dining hall for a meal now and then.
“I come here when it gets rough,” Wesley said. “Dealing with all the prices from school, you don’t have a lot of money at the end of the day.”
Wesley also is fond of the shelter because he used to come here with his mother, Deanna Wesley, who was killed near a BREC Park on North Street in 2004. Christopher Wesley helped organize a memorial for his mother in 2011, but her slaying is still unsolved.
So on this Easter Sunday, he found himself again at the dining hall. “It gives me a connection to her.”
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter: @_dbethencourt.