Kisha McMaryion held a pair of bright-pink high-top sneakers, admiring them and a bagful of toiletries and other necessities with a look that was a combination of excitement and thankfulness.
It’s her first Valentine’s Day away from her family — including her young daughter — whom she left back in Texas about eight months ago so she could get a job in Baton Rouge.
Though she misses her relatives, the 34-year-old still managed to find some Valentine’s Day spirit away from home on Saturday at Love Fest, an event organized by community service organization Live Love Serve. It was aimed at the homeless and others in need and held under the North Street overpass where many of them congregate.
Volunteers were stationed beneath the overpass at tables decorated with paper hearts and pink tablecloths, where they served people hot plate lunches and gave them clothes, bags of toiletries and handwritten Valentine’s Day cards that children made earlier in the week.
“It’s awesome,” McMaryion said.
Some people walked up carrying their few belongings and others rode squeaky bicycles to the overpass, where many of Baton Rouge’s homeless spend their days and nights. Besides handing out some basic necessities, volunteers helped point people to housing and medical resources. But the event was also meant to be fun — some people danced as a DJ played music — and bring the community together, said Dana Buckley, founder of Live Love Serve.
“The homeless population, that’s my heart,” she said. “They need to be shown love — they have enough issues going on, so just to keep them in a positive spirit ... during this holiday to show that they’re not forgotten.”
Many of the people under the overpass on Saturday were volunteers with various community organizations who said they came because they wanted to give back to the less fortunate on the holiday.
“The homeless may not have family to go home to or spend the holidays with someone,” said Arthur Gremillion, founder and director of the gospel Arthur and Friends Community Choir from New Roads, which performed at Saturday’s event. For him, Valentine’s Day is “not really about couples, but spreading love.”
Antoine Pierce, a candidate for the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council District 8 seat, was at the event with his arts enrichment nonprofit organization, the Better Boys Initiative.
“It’s a shining example of what love can do,” Pierce said. “When our city is faced with so much hate and violence and political separation and all these things, it’s just a picture to the people of what love is and what it means to the community.”
Anya Marchand, 15, helped fill bags with toiletry items and hand them out Saturday with friends from the Outstanding Mature Girlz organization, which teaches teenagers about HIV/AIDS awareness and self-appreciation. She said it’s important to help the homeless, especially on a holiday centered around love.
“They don’t really get so much love,” Marchand said, adding that her grandparents usually give her balloons and some money for Valentine’s Day, but most homeless people don’t receive those kinds of gifts.
Terry Scott, who called himself “very homeless,” said he was happy to see so many people volunteering at the event.
“It means love to me,” he said. “I can see all the love in their hearts.”
Scott, 61, said he lost his house in New Orleans after it caught on fire during Hurricane Katrina. He came to Baton Rouge about three years ago.
He said he wishes more people would understand that homelessness is not always a result of not trying to help oneself. Sometimes their circumstances are unavoidable, making support from the community important, he said. “Look at us and observe us and know that it can happen to you,” Scott said. “My humbleness came from that.”