Clad in red stocking caps, Selina Loupe’s boys raced to the table at lunchtime Thursday with Styrofoam plates loaded with green beans, jambalaya and fried turkey.
The food, however, wasn’t for them. It was for the hundreds of needy people stretched out the door at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room in Baton Rouge, waiting for Christmas lunch.
“This is our tradition. We woke up about 6:30 a.m.,” said Loupe, who for the past five years has served holiday meals with her son and stepson, ages 10 and 11.
Loupe’s family joined 150 or so other volunteers Thursday to serve hot meals, hand out supplies and offer friendship to those in need.
“We look forward to it every year,” she said. “It’s just a really fulfilling way to spend Christmas.”
With the smell of warm pumpkin pie drifting through the air, diners young and old sat six to a table as volunteers delivered their meals.
“We fried about 80 turkeys. It’s a Christmas meal with a little Cajun flair,” said Michael Acaldo, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Baton Rouge.
Volunteers served 830 plates of food in total, slightly more than anticipated, he said.
Guests ranged from homeless people to those trying to make ends meet with tight budgets, Acaldo said.
“It’s really brightening Christmas for people who might otherwise be forgotten,” he said.
Bishop Robert W. Muench showed up to lend a hand, as well as several public officials, including East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden.
As they do every year, St. Vincent de Paul volunteers and staff set up tables just outside the dining hall where guests can pick up shoes, fresh produce and winter coats, among other donated gifts.
That’s what drew Kevin Smith, 26. He lives around the corner from the dining room and wandered over after he saw people gathering outside.
“I wasn’t expecting a meal like this today,” he said. “There’s just so much love out here.”
Chris Joel, 27, has been homeless about six months and said the event brightened his day.
“It’s a lot of giving and generosity,” he said. “And that makes you feel good.”
Katherine Theunissen, 47, and her two sons have helped out with the lunch every Christmas for the past decade.
“It’s a blessing to be able to give back,” she said. “It’s what Christmas is all about.”
Follow Matt McKinney on Twitter, @mmckinne17.