Dave Townsend speeds around the hall in his wheelchair accepting handshakes, high fives, pats on the back and an occasional kiss on the cheek from some of the women among the several hundred at the 11th annual Outdoorsmen Helping Others Banquet Fundraiser on a Saturday evening.

Townsend is in his element, at the Hammond Union of Police Hall, as he greets those joining him for the event. The event is held each year to raise funds to sponsor trips into the outdoors for handicapped or mentally disabled youngsters who might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy hunting, fishing and the opportunity to savor an experience in the outdoors away from the daily routine of their lives.

“Outdoorsmen Helping Others keeps on working hard so that they can share their great love for life in the woods and on the water with the less fortunate,” Townsend said. “Most of those involved with OHO are sportsmen themselves, and they know the joy of experiencing the great outdoors and they want to share that with some really special young people.”

Those chosen by the organization for expeditions also learn about nature, Townsend said. He cites the case of a young handicapped hunter who was treated to a deer hunt near Yazoo, Mississippi, last year.

“He was so excited to be on a deer hunt, but he didn’t get one. A number of does came within shooting range, but he chose not to shoot one of them out of respect for helping to preserve deer. That says a lot for the young man. … there are some ‘hunters’ who could learn a lesson from this boy who appreciates just having the chance to see nature in the wild.”

Supporting the annual dinner and fundraiser were also a number of local and area businesses who donated items for auctions and raffles. Many door prizes were donated by individuals and businesses. The venue also offered a chance for youngsters to meet with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents, local firefighters who had a unit on display, and representatives of companies that manufacture outdoor gear especially adapted for the handicapped.

The evening’s dinner was typical Louisiana fare: jambalaya, white beans, salad, bread and sweets. The dinner was cooked and served by volunteers.

“Without the support of so many, we just couldn’t pull this off,” Townsend said.

Despite his confinement to the wheelchair because of a stroke, Townsend was at the center of all that is going on in the hall.

Judge Brenda Bedsole Ricks, of the 21st Judicial District, stopped by to chat with Townsend.

“We are lucky to have the organization which has such a great purpose … it shows once again how the people in our area care about others,” Ricks said. “We are lucky, and the kids are so lucky, to have Dave and Outdoors Helping Others. All too often many of our young people are forgotten, but Dave and this group remembers them, and that’s a good thing.”

Phyllis Stevens, who was manning the registration table at the hall’s entrance, has been a supporter of OHO for the past five years. She said she learned about the group when her son, Brodey Stevens, then 13, was invited to go on a deep-sea charter fishing trip courtesy of OHO.

Brodey was suffering from a degenerative hip ailment that left him severely handicapped. The whole family joined in the trip, and mother and son both said that the trip was a highlight of their lives and were grateful to OHO for the opportunity. Both have been active in the organization since.

A traditional part of the fundraiser is the naming of the next recipient of a hunting and fishing trip. Townsend said the organization’s directors decided to wait and name that individual later when the hunting season is nearing its opening dates. The banquet and fundraiser was held earlier this year than in previous years, he said.

Townsend said applications for a possible trip are still open and anyone can submit an applications. Call (985) 507-4354 or find an application form at dtownsend@outdoorsmemhelpingothers.org.