Kent Zerangue of Opelousas vacuum packs individual meals, puts warming instructions on them and freezes them for Hospice of Acadiana.

Dave Nezat contacted me late last week with a story he thought needed to be told, especially with the dark news cycles of late.

Nezat, a local musician whose day gig is his pressure-washing business, has a client who’s quietly giving back in his retirement years.

So, a reluctant Kent Zerangue agreed to an interview, and I must say after we spoke, my day got a little brighter.

Zerangue was a regional vice president for Altria, one of the world's largest tobacco companies. He worked his way up from sales and in the process, moved all over the country before retiring after 31 years two years ago.

“I was 56 and too young not to do something,” said Zerangue, an Opelousas native. “We have been blessed with things that I never thought we would have, you know? You can’t have all of that and not have this tug, that, 'Hey, you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to give back somehow.’

“And I’ve always had a passion for cooking. So this is how I decided to do it.”

The Zerangues bought a home in Lafayette and had a kitchen built in the backyard.

“Originally, it was to make sausage because I make my own sausage and smoke it,” said Zerangue. “Well, you can only make so much sausage. So you’ve got to figure out something else since we started just cooking meals.”

Zerangue vacuum packs individual meals, slaps warming instructions on them and freezes them for Hospice of Acadiana.

It’s not a one-man show, either. Enter his wife Susie Zerangue. But over the last nine months or so, other people have volunteered to help.

Enter Ores Menard, Vergie LeCompte, Kathy Whipp, Brenda Latiolais, Kim Manuel, Hester Dugas, Anne McDade and Becky Berthelot.

Zerangue will send anywhere from 50-75 meals to hospice weekly or every other week, depending on the need.

“Sometimes, their freezer is full because I’m not the only one who brings food to hospice,” he said. “We take it a little further in how we produce and put it in bags that don’t have to be returned. Most of my food, they put it in a pot and boil it for five minutes and the food is hot.”

The menu consists of gumbo, lasagna, chili, spaghetti and meatballs, shepherd’s pie, vegetable beef soup, white beans and ham, chicken fricassee and meatball stew.

“We try to do comfort food,” Zerangue said. “It’s not so much for the patient as it is for the people who are taking care of the patient. They’re the ones, a lot of times are tired of buying (takeout) food. Certainly if the patient can eat it, we want that to happen.”

It was during his father’s hospice care in 2016 that he saw a way he could also give back.

“All my siblings were there," he said. "We’d always go buy food and get food to eat. While all of us can cook, none of us really wanted to cook because it was more about being with Dad and taking care of Dad.

“And neighbors and friends would bring food over, and it was wonderful to have a home-cooked meal. And I said this is something I could do when I retired. And sure enough, when we got to 2017 and I did retire, we first started with families that I’d bring food to and still do.”

In the 11 moves with the company, Zerangue cooked a lot and for a lot of people — 300 here, 500 there for a Hurricane Katrina benefit and a whopping 1,000 people for a priest’s send-off (he did have help).

Come Sept. 19, as part of Cafe Sydnie Mae’s Guest Chef series, Zerangue will be at the helm with proceeds going to Hospice of Acadiana. It’s expected that Callie Guidry and her daughter, Chynna, and Sam Broussard will play.

“I learned how to cook from my mom — she was an excellent cook,” he said. “Mom was the kind of person when somebody was sick, she was the first one there. I kind of saw that growing up.

“It’s a combination of God gave me a talent, and he gave me the passion and the resources. So you’ve got to respond.”