Krugerrand Hollins is the father of young sons who may never suffer need, but he felt it important that his family wake early on a Saturday to fill grocery bags and assist in the feeding of nearly 500 families.
Hollins felt there was a valuable lesson tucked in the bright orange bags. “They worked,” he said. “I kept them working.”
Hollins was a volunteer Nov. 11 at a drive-thru food pantry at The Rock Church in Zachary, but during the workweek he is the vice president of information systems for Essential Federal Credit Union. His company provided the donation to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank that paved the way for the distribution of 475 holiday meals. The lesson for the Hollins boys, 11 and 13, is one of thankfulness paired with a greater sense of responsibility.
“Life is circumstantial,” Hollins said. “You’re given what you are given and if you have a little bit more, you should help others who don’t have.”
Helping others on a grand scale was the goal of the food distribution. Cars lined up along Plank Road and around the corner down Highway 64 for an opportunity to enter the parking lot of The Rock Church. Once inside, recipients never exited their vehicles. Essential provided financial information, church members offered greetings and encouragement and opened trunks were filled with bags of groceries.
Each meal consisted of a hen and side dishes. Essential employees provided desserts for the meals and the company’s senior management team personally matched all contributions.
The credit union sent more than a check — they sent volunteers and their families. Melissa Causey, a support specialist at the Plaquemine branch joined the food pantry effort because of the good cause and the opportunity it gave her to return a helping hand. “I know there are people out here who need it after dealing with the flood and some people are still trying to recover from the flood, Causey said. “I know that it can be a struggle and that there are times when it’s not easy.”
Causey recalled personal hardships and the need to live with her parents for three years to get her family back on their feet. “We were fortunate to have someone to help us at the time,” she said. “It makes you feel good in the heart to know you are able to help and give back to the community.”
Bridgette Spriggs, also from the Plaquemine branch, said she was inspired to support her company while giving back. “It makes me feel good to help people and that’s what I enjoy doing,” Spriggs said.
These opportunities to meet needs are key to the mission of the Essential organization, said Lis Patrick, community development manager. “Outreach is very important at Essential Federal Credit Union,” Patrick said. “Our mission is to serve our communities. If we can better people’s quality of life, that is our goal and that is our objective.
Patrick said 25 Essential employees volunteered at the food distribution, but other outreach efforts include ways to share financial advice. “We do community seminars to help people with credit-building and homebuying to get people on the right track to getting a better quality of life,” she said.
The volunteers from The Rock Church are no strangers to meeting needs and feeding souls. Betty Miller wasn’t able to stand in the parking lot, but she wheeled her chair walker to a station along the drive-thru route and served as greeter and offered words of encouragement. “Welcome to the Rock Church; this is where you get spiritually and physically fed,” she repeated afresh to each passing car. “Come by and see us you are so invited.”
“They are getting turkey right now, that’s for the physical body,” Miller explained. “Then you come to church and hear Brother Rocky preaching and he feeds you spiritually. He gives you a plate of spiritual food that is absolutely divine and when you go home you are so satisfied because you know you have heard the Word of God.”
Sue Coates, like all church staff and volunteers, has a shirt that starts with the phrase “For I was hungry and you gave me food ...” She and her husband Tollie Coates help coordinate the food pantry ministry at the church.
The Coates worked with the church food pantry for five or six years before having to take a year off after experiencing significant flood damage in 2016. They took over the leadership role after another member retired. “We just want to be a blessing and it’s our passion to feed the hungry,” she said.
The turnout exceeded the resources and many cars had to be turned away, but Coats likened the experience to the miracles of the meager amount of fish and loaves that fed a multitude. “God has really blessed us,” she said. “We were expecting 400 and it got multiplied to 475.”
Charlie Watts, assistant pastor at The Rock Church, said the church has worked with the Food Bank since 2006 as well as having its own food pantry. The church food pantry distributes to the public each Tuesday and families can receive food once a month. Members of the church also give to the food ministry. “We are a distribution point, but we get a lot of donations through our church,” Watts said. “We feed a lot of families.”
The mission of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank is to feed the hungry in Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes by providing food and educational outreach through faith-based and other community partners. Bob Kansas, Food Bank chief operations officer, said those partnerships are crucial to operations.
Partners are essential to the food distribution process, Kansas said. “We could not do what we do without having our agency partnerships,” he said. “When we do 400 or 450 households, there are maybe 1,600 people in those households. There’s no way the Food Bank could do all that without our network.”
Charlene Montelaro, senior vice president for development at the Food Bank, echoed the importance of the partners and sponsors. “I work with the organizations like Essential to get the funds to make these things happen,” she said. “Sometimes we give out food that was donated, but today, this food was purchased to buy a holiday meal.”
Kansas expects to have three more “mobiles” like the one sponsored by Essential this holiday season. The near return to business as usual is despite the Food Bank’s losses after the 2016 flooding. “As far as the building goes, we are pretty much back to where we were,” Kansas said. “I think everyone has gone through a trauma in our 11-parish service area.”
“I think it’s really good to be back up and running and get our programs back on track and that’s where we are right now and trying to meet our goals for this year and plan our goals for next year,” he added.