Cold weather didn’t stop the Zachary community from packing the pantry on Friday.

Paul Mier and his gumbo-cooking assistants from Central and Zachary were on site at the city hall parking lot as early as 2 a.m.

“We were out here very early,” Mier said. “It was freezing.”

Mier cooks his chicken and sausage gumbo each year for the food drive, Pack the Pantry, benefiting the Zachary Food Pantry, a nonprofit that has existed in the community for 26 years.

Mier’s secret recipe is the focus of a gumbo sale that marks the midway point for the November food drive.

“This one holds about 30 gallons, but that one holds 100 gallons,” Mier said, indicating a nearby cast-iron pot bubbling with smoked sausage.

Businesses, residents, schools, children and volunteers all lent a hand where needed in the days leading up to the big push to fill a walk-in POD located in the city hall parking lot on Main Street.

Barrels were placed at businesses and schools earlier in the month, and students began competing to collect the most canned goods.

“Though the final tally hasn’t been calculated, Rollins Place Elementary had a lot,” Superintendent Scott Devillier said Friday afternoon.

On Nov. 8, Legends Sports Academy teams collected eight shopping carts full of canned goods in front of LeBlanc’s Food Store, according to food pantry director Reggie Dykes.

Firefighters picked up barrels full of nonperishable food items from schools Friday, delivering them to food pantry volunteers manning the POD.

Residents dropped off bags of food from their own pantries. Cousins Dustin Amrhein and Christy Anderson brought boxes as well as bags from their grandparents’ pantry, the late Cherry and Jerry Boudreaux.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., drive-up and walk-up orders for gumbo were accepted while volunteers from the city, civic organizations and businesses fulfilled large orders to go for area businesses and Zachary schools.

Zachary Police Chief David McDavid, his secretary, Brandy Hannum, and records clerk, Amber Guidry, delivered large orders of gumbo, complete with crackers, spoons and napkins, to the schools.

According to Pack the Pantry organizer Sharon Phillips, a total of $17,000 in cash donations had been received from sponsors and businesses, and a total of $19,485 had been collected in cash and in-kind donations as of 11 a.m. Nov. 14.

“We’re far from a grand total, though,” Phillips said.

Dykes says the November food drive helps considerably, especially with the approaching holidays.

“The shelves are starting to fill back up since nearly depleting over the summer,” Dykes said.

According to Dykes, it was the worst summer to date for the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, which serves member agencies in an 11-parish area: Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. James, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana as well as a satellite distribution center in Tangipahoa Parish, Our Daily Bread in Hammond.

Over the summer, the Zachary Food Pantry served 276 households in June, 281 in July, 284 in August and 322 in September, according to Dykes.

“That’s a total of 2,600 children, 3,700 adults and 847 elderly for the year, not including October through December months,” he said. “Two weeks ago, 86 families showed up, and on Tuesday, 90 families were served.”

A core group of volunteers regularly assist at the food bank, but anyone can volunteer, Dykes explained.

“Except clients,” Dykes said. “I made the decision that clients of the food bank cannot volunteer after a bad experience. Sadly, it happens, some people take advantage.”

As of September, 340 volunteers have logged a total of 4,357 hours.

“If you’re not a client and want to volunteer, show up Tuesdays between 8 and 11 a.m.,” Dykes said. “We can always use the extra help.”

Other ways to assist include double-bagging and donating food or money. Volunteers will pick up donations, if necessary, and deer meat is accepted but must be processed, packaged and labeled by a wild game processor. No expired food items are accepted, Dykes added.

Households must apply, be certified and meet certain income criteria to receive monthly commodities.

Adopted in January, families receiving food must live in the legal boundaries of the Zachary Community School District, according to Zachary city officials. About 26 Slaughter residents who were being served by the pantry were grandfathered in, the city said.

The Zachary Food Pantry, located at 5640 Rollins Road, is governed by a five-member board of directors and nine at-large members.

To donate, call (225) 654-3164.