Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 6:00 am
By MELISSA DUET
A few more locals will be enjoying a more comfortable holiday season through an initiative to fill pantries across the area that wraps up this weekend.
Operation Full Pantry, established in 2014, is a volunteer and community-based food drive stemming from a desire to help the numerous neighbors living in the area that often go without. On the heels of the inaugural year’s success, a Board of Directors, including Kristy Hebert-Graham, Jonathan Foret, Raegan Crappell, Jason Graham and M.J. Plaisance, was formed and the group was incorporated to make things official for the growing initiative.
All donations collected go to local organizations that help a broad spectrum of people throughout the year. Shortly after wrapping up last year’s drive, the board began meeting to discuss potential recipients and SoLa Dragon Eggs, Faith Ministries, Bayoulands Adoptive and Foster Parents Association and Start Corporation were selected as this year’s recipients.
Bayoulands Adoptive and Foster Parents Association assists the the Department of Children and Family Services in providing items to children taken in from abused or neglected living situations, while SoLa Dragon Eggs is a recent upstart that offers bags of necessary food and hygiene products to the homeless. Faith Ministries operates dozens of projects to assist children and families in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes and Start Corporation offers a variety of programs for those with low incomes or behavioral, physical or developmental challenges.
“It’s sort of a collaborative effort,” Jonathan Foret, the board’s vice-president, said of the selections. “We all know people doing good things that we like to support…After vetting them, we vote on who the donations should go to.”
Terrebonne Parish businesses have partnered with Operation Full Pantry as drop-off locations for the initiative. Throughout the last two months, community members have been encouraged to drop off non-perishable items, such as canned foods, baby items and toiletries, at these locations, and many establishments have offered up an incentive to get their customers to lend a helping hand to the cause.
Cristiano Ristorante is one of the nearly 20 businesses participating and is treating those that dine at the Houma restaurant to a chance at a $100 gift card to the establishment. An oversized bottle filled with wine corks is displayed in the restaurant’s lounge through Friday and those that donate $5 to Operation Full Pantry may take a crack at how many corks are inside. Available guesses are displayed on a nearby board so no two answers are the same and the winner is set to be announced on the Cristiano Facebook page on Monday.
“We are always looking for ways to give back to the community,” Marketing and Public Relations Manager for KC Restaurant Group, which runs Cristiano and Dick & Jenny’s, Emily Melancon said of the “Put a Cork in Hunger” promotion. “During the holiday season, we understand that we have many community members in need and we wanted to be able to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable holiday.”
Envy Boutique is also encouraging shoppers to take part by offering $10 in Envy Bucks, money good toward a purchase at the store, in exchange for five or more donations to Operation Full Pantry.
“I do it because I’ve always loved getting involved with giving back to the community,” owner Sara Rhodes added. “We did it last year when we were downtown and I asked if we could do it again this year even though we moved and they let us. We’ve gotten a good turnout so far. I’ve always thought if you give good, you get good back.”
Other drop-off points include JL Salon, Root2Rise, Serving Houma, The Duke, The Boxer & The Barrel, Thatcher Place, Bar Roussell, The Brickhouse Tavern, Terrebonne Parish Folklife Center, Urban Loft, JuJu’s Boutique, The Salon Rubicon, Funktion Salon and Anela’s.
On Saturday, the Operation Full Pantry board of directors will join together with the participating businesses for a final day of giving in the heart of downtown Houma. Community members are invited to continue bringing donations to any of the drop-off points during regular business hours or the main drop-off point near the Downtown Houma Courthouse Square, where all donations will be sorted and loaded onto moving trucks for delivery the following morning.
“We’re going to have several different trucks there,” Foret said. “Some things are specific. For example, for SoLa Dragon Eggs, they’re looking for toiletry items. Things that someone without a house could use. For the foster care association, we’re looking for formula, diapers. As things come in, our volunteers sort of know which truck to put everything in. On Saturday, we load up all the trucks and lock them. On Sunday, we drive them to the location where the donation will be made and we unload the truck for those folks.”
The overwhelming response to the initiative has shocked Foret, involvement he credits to the easily accessible way to be part of the larger mission and is thrilled to see the initiative blossoming in the area.
“One of the things I’m most impressed with is how quickly this has grown because last year, we planned Operation Full Pantry in three weeks,” he explained. “It was a huge success. This year, it seems like it’s quadrupled. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we doubled what we did last year.’ It’s crazy … It’s people taking care of people. It’s what it’s all about and I think this is an easy way for people to participate. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, people volunteering and what that means. This is a very easy way to participate in something wonderful. You could sign up to volunteer at the main drop-off point but it doesn’t even have to be that. You pick up some groceries, you drop it off at the drop-off point Saturday and you’ve helped. Operation Full Pantry makes it easy for people to participate in something wonderful that helps people.” •