Local chefs and grocers are helping keep alive the tradition of St. Joseph Altars, including the one at the Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge.

The center “depends on the goodwill of the community and volunteers for the food that’s served,” said Debi Grymes, who coordinates the volunteer efforts for the altar. The altar, sponsored in conjunction with The Sister Dulce Foundation, features traditional Sicilian fare.

When it hosts its sixth annual St. Joseph’s Altar Sunday, the center will serve as many as a 1,000 people with food donated by its volunteers, or “prayer partners,” and by at least two dozen restaurants and grocery stores. Among them is chef John Folse, owner of Chef John Folse & Co. and whose White Oak Plantation catering and events management division is next door to the prayer center on George O’Neal Road.

“St. Joseph’s Altars are part of our Louisiana heritage,” Folse said. “Since the first immigrants arrived from Sicily in the 1880s, every March 19 has seen homes, churches and parish halls decorated with food altars paying tribute to St. Joseph. Annually, I participate in the Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center’s St. Joseph’s Altar by preparing the traditional centerpiece, the redfish, which is symbolic of Christ. This is my way of honoring St. Joseph while also participating in the evangelization efforts of Sister Dulce and the ministry center.”

Baton Rouge restaurateur Wayne Stabiler provides all the Italian breads for the meal served the public, Grymes said. He donates dozens of loaves of the popular twisted loaves from his Little Village restaurants, along with a favorite meatless Italian dish such as eggplant parmigiana. The bread loaves are topped with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and spices. His sister and daughter both volunteer at the prayer center.

Peter Sclafani, chef and co-owner of Ruffino’s Italian Restaurant in Baton Rouge and Ruffino’s on the River in Lafayette, always provides the traditional meatless red sauce, Grymes said.

“Immaculate Conception (Catholic Church in Denham Springs) did all their cookies and now they are bringing us some,” she said. “There is an outpouring from all parishes. Sometimes I’m just humbled. You hear about so much bad going on, but then you see the good.”

She said after the altar ends at 4 p.m. Sunday, volunteers will deliver the remaining food, cakes and vegetables to homeless shelters, nursing homes and battered women’s shelter.

Other restaurateurs and food businesses who donate to the center’s altar are Acme Oyster House, Albertson’s, Alexander’s Highland Market, Another Slice of Cake, Associated Grocers, Capital City Produce, City Cafe, Coco-Cola, DeAngelo’s Pizzeria Co.’s Central and Coursey Boulevard locations, DiGiulio Brothers Italian Cafe, Drusilla Seafood, Frank’s Restaurant, Fresh Market, Gino’s Italian Restaurant, Hi Nabor Supermarkets, Mansurs on the Boulevard, Momma Mia’s, Oak Lodge, TJ Ribs, Whole Foods and Maurice Fine Pastries in Metairie.