SORRENTO — As recently as this summer, the Sorrento Lions Club struggled with dwindling membership, few volunteer projects and had placed its Joseph Street meeting hall up for sale.
The community service organization, formed three years before the town was incorporated in 1956, seemed to be fading away.
But over the past three months, the Sorrento Lions Club has been infused with younger membership determined to jump-start the organization and bring back the unique fête fundraiser the town was known for — the Boucherie Festival.
Once heralded as the “Boucherie Capital of the World,” Sorrento has been without the annual festival since 2011.
“We hope to do a smaller-scale boucherie this year,” said Lions Club Vice President Heather Templet, 35. “It’s in the works. It’s our goal. We are pretty determined.”
The festival — and its tradition of celebrating the area’s Cajun culture and hog dish recipes — is of such significance to the town that candidates running for public office in 2013 were asked at a public debate if they supported bringing the festival back.
And, more recently, new signs indicating the town limits were installed with the second “o” in Sorrento featuring a curly pig tail.
For more than 25 years, the Sorrento Lions Club hosted the October festival at the Ascension Civic Center off Airline Highway.
The annual event featured carnival rides, food and music plus cracklin’ and jambalaya cooking competitions.
The festival was reigned over by the year’s Miss Sorrento Boucherie Festival Queen.
The event went off without a hitch for many years, postponed only once by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But, six years later, in 2011, it was canceled because the Lions Club could not find a new location to hold the festival after the event was forced to move from the civic center. The owner of the civic center property, the Ascension Parish School Board, had decided to use the property’s building as a storage warehouse and distribution center, leaving the festival without a home.
The resurrection of the Lions Club and the possibility of a Boucherie Festival revival are two brights spots for a town trying to rebuild from numerous scandals. Voters decided to abolish the police department, and other scandals kept the town in the news.
“We’re hoping to bring a positive vibe to the town,” Templet said. “We love Sorrento. We want to do positive things for our senior citizens, for our children and just bring a light to the town. It really is a quaint, nice town.”
But to reach these goals, Templet said the Lions Club is searching for new members.
As founding members of the Lions Club aged, club activities dropped off and membership declined, Templet said.
The loss of the Boucherie Festival, the Lions Club’s premiere event, might have been the final nail in the coffin.
“Once there was no more Boucherie, there was no more income coming in, and people weren’t as interested anymore,” Templet said.
Today, membership is up from three to 18 people with one founding club member, former state District Judge A.J. Kling, still involved, Templet said.
The club is currently renovating its meeting hall to rent out for baby showers, reunions and parties, Templet said.
Membership is open to anyone who wants to serve, and Sorrento residency is not required, Templet said, since the club also raises money for statewide organizations including the Louisiana Lions Eye Foundation and the Louisiana Lions League for Crippled Children.
The Sorrento Lions Club has already volunteered at the town’s Christmas Lighting Ceremony earlier this month by serving food and painting children’s faces and has solicited funds to buy Christmas presents to distribute at the town’s senior citizen luncheon, Templet said.
As for the Boucherie Festival, Templet said the biggest question is whether the festival can fit inside the town’s new community center on Main Street.
Although much smaller than the festival’s previous site at the civic center, Templet said, the 3,500-square foot community center is equipped with a kitchen, an outdoor patio and sits on 16 acres that could be used to hold a smaller, one-day festival.
The property’s size and reduced parking, is “the one thing we’re going to have to work on logistics-wise,” Templet said.
The community center, planned by town officials for five years, has been a longtime goal for Mayor Mike Lambert, the Town Council and the town’s previous administration.
Coupled with the community center’s completion and the possibility of the Boucherie Festival returning, the Lions Club Renaissance is a positive trend that can only mean good things for Sorrento, Lambert said.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Lambert said. “The people are finally seeing we’ve stabilized our town government. They’re starting to feel good about Sorrento.”
The Sorrento Lions Club meets on the fourth Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at its meeting hall at 44242 Joseph St. The club will not meet in December because of the Christmas holidays, Templet said.