by Doug Ireland

It’s the season of giving. In 2020, that spirit has never been more appreciated.

Covid. Hurricanes. Many jobs lost, lives disrupted, everywhere. Who ever thought a hurricane would sweep through central Louisiana and even hit Monroe and Ruston – as a full-fledged hurricane? Resulting damage and extended power outages were far-reaching in our neighborhoods.

A pandemic, now, that wasn’t as unanticipated. It happened before, in a big wicked way, a century earlier. We had some near misses not long ago with SARS and the Swine Flu.

Experts have been warning for years that a vicious virus could have devastating consequences mitigated only by superior planning and management, heroic health care workers and groundbreaking scientists. Well, two out of three ain’t been good enough.

We stumbled through the ugliest, most divisive presidential election in our lifetimes. The soul of our country is bruised, to say the least. Nerves are frayed. Faith in government, and in our fellow citizens, is barely above rock-bottom.

How can we rediscover what we took for granted 20 years ago? America was beautiful. Basic truths were self-evident.

Now, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, one pathway back to more solid footing is showing up again all over. It’s giving. Volunteering to help others, those in need. In Louisiana’s holiday showcase of Natchitoches, it’s not just the beauty of the lights, the flash of fireworks, and Santa greeting little girls and boys in his workshop downtown on the banks of Cane River that reassures us.

It’s things like the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, coming again on Dec. 11 to the Collins Family Pavilion across the parking lot from Prather Coliseum in the athletic footprint of the Northwestern State campus.

Distribution of food there began in September, inspired by NSU football great, Marcus Spears, who was involved with a food bank in his adopted home of Houston and became aware that doing something helpful in Natchitoches was possible.

“It made sense then and it still does,” said the two-time All-America offensive tackle for the Demons, who played 11 NFL seasons in Chicago, Kansas City and Houston. “Natchitoches is my second home. It was when I came from Baton Rouge to college, and it still is. There are people struggling everywhere, but this is Natchitoches and I was able to help.”

Spears learned that the Houston food bank was affiliated with others and could assist in paving the way for aid in the 71457 and surrounding area. The Food Bank of Central Louisiana is a noble non-profit trying to alleviate hunger in the region, associated with a network of 161 charitable agencies in 11 Cenla parishes.

So in September, and again in each of the following two months, Spears has personally directed traffic as anyone who has a need waits patiently in a long, long line of cars they don’t mind joining. Non-perishable and frozen food, along with fresh produce, is given away in the Prather Coliseum parking lot.

NSU student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff assist in the distribution along with other volunteers.

The recovery from Hurricane Laura was the catalyst, but since, the need has not waned, and neither has the level of commitment from the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, the NSU family and Spears.

If you could use some food, or some inspiration, make plans to be there at 10 a.m. until noon on December 11.

It might fill your fridge and pad your pantry, if you want. It will warm your heart and restore a little faith in your fellow man.

Merry Christmas, to all. And to all, a better 2021.


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