The food and the fig cookies will flow when area Catholic churches and organizations host St. Joseph's Altars over the next few weeks.

While St. Joseph's Day is March 19, most altars will be open the weekend before.

On Sunday, March 17, a St. Joseph's Altar will be open from noon to 4 p.m. at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center, 17560 George O'Neal Road (near John Folse's White Oak Plantation). 

Free meals — lots of dishes without meat from more than 20 local restaurants — will be served along with cookies, breads and cakes, said Debi Grymes, special events director at the center.

The Grandsons of Italy, which stages a St. Joseph's Altar at the Sacred Heart School gym, is pushing its celebration back a week to March 23-24.

Nickie Dimaio said the group has been organizing the altar for 41 years and didn't want to hold it on the same weekend as other altars in the area or the St. Patrick's Day Parade. 

In St. Francisville, a St. Joseph's Altar is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, at the home of Jamie Mabile and James Bill Gomillion, 12009 Graham Road. A traditional meal will be served at noon after a blessing.

"My family helps with making thousands of cookies," said Mabile, who has been doing the altar for seven years at home. "We start two months before the altar. It is a wonderful experience and lots of memory-making. We hear stories from our older aunts and uncles, who pass things on to the next generation."

St. Joseph Altars commemorate the end of a drought-caused famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. The faithful attributed this blessing to prayers to St. Joseph, Sicily’s patron saint, and prepared a feast from the resulting harvest. Sicilian immigrants brought the custom to Louisiana, and it is celebrated near St. Joseph’s Day.

Although the Mercedarian sisters at Cypress Springs, the ministry started by Sister Dulce Maria to minister to the gravely ill, had not previously participated in St. Joseph Altars before coming to Louisiana, it has become an annual tradition there, said Grymes.

New this year, she said, will be an hourlong demonstration on how to make traditional fig cookies called cuccidatis starting at 1:30 p.m. Registration would be appreciated at eventbrite.com, but is not essential. Staci and Olivia Gulino, local bloggers for "Batch & Loaf, will conduct the demonstration.

The cookie event, like the meals, is free and open to the public. Grymes said more than 5,500 people came out for the event last year. 

Those attending will be able to view the altar and all will leave with a goodie bag containing fig cookies, a rosary, blessed bread and a blessed fava bean along with a St. Joseph prayer card, she said.

Here are some of the altars scheduled in the area:

Baton Rouge — March 17: Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center, 17560 George O'Neal Road. Noon to 4 p.m. free meal for all and viewing of the altar in the center's Dolphin Room.

Baton Rouge — March 19: St. Joseph Cathedral, 412 North St. Feast of St. Joseph, noon Mass followed by a free meal for all in the church hall. 

Baton Rouge — March 23-24: The Grandsons of Italy, hosted by Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2250 Main St. Saturday, March 23 — following 4 p.m. Mass, procession from church to the Sacred Heart gym for the blessing of the altar with viewing until 6:30 p.m. Italian cookies and wine will be served; Sunday, March 24 — 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. altar on display, 12:15 p.m. ceremonial breaking of the bread in the gym followed by a free Italian feast for all.

Denham Springs — March 15-16: Friends of St. Joseph, Immaculate Conception Church, 865 Hatchell Lane. Friday, March 15 — Blessing of altar in main hall after 7 p.m. Mass; Saturday, March 16 — 11 a.m. feeding of the saints followed by a free meal for all until 3 p.m.

Plaquemine — March 16-17: Knights of Columbus, St. John the Evangelist Church, 58715 Price St. Saturday, March 16 — Blessing of the altar after 4 p.m. Mass; Sunday, March 17 — free meal for all from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Morganza — March 17: San Giuseppe Ladies, St. Ann Church, 182 Church St. Following 10 a.m. Mass, blessing of the altar, feeding of the Holy Family and free meal for all in parish hall.

St. Francisville — March 17: Jamie Mabile and James Bill Gomillion, 12009 Graham Road. Altar viewing 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with meal served at noon after a blessing.