DENHAM SPRINGS -- More than 10 years ago, a group of volunteers gathered in a parking lot near Eastover Estates in Denham Springs to pass out meals for Thanksgiving.
It was one of the first projects for Mighty Moms, which eventually became a non-profit organization dedicated to feeding impoverished children in Livingston Parish. But instead of working in the well-lit parking lot at Abundant Life Church as they do now, Mighty Moms co-founders Dawn Birdsong and Beth McCormick said they had to use flashlights as they sorted through food in the dark.
That first year, McCormick recalled, “was rough.”
“It got dark on us so fast,” McCormick said. “We all had to use our cell phone light so we could see what was what.”
“But those were some dang good meals they got,” Birdsong said with a laugh.
Though they no longer need flashlights, Mighty Moms still delivers a Thanksgiving feast.
For the 11th straight year, the local food pantry passed out meals to families in need this Thanksgiving, continuing a tradition that started shortly after the local non-profit organization launched its mission to end childhood hunger in the parish.
Volunteers gathered at Mighty Moms’ main office in Denham Springs to pass out meals for around 100 families. Much of the food was collected during a month-long pumpkin patch collection drive.
For an organization that has delivered more than 112,000 food bags to students on an average monthly grocery bill of $10,000, the Thanksgiving meal distribution holds a special place in their hearts.
“This is probably our favorite time of the year for Mighty Moms,” Birdsong said. “It always has been the Thanksgiving giveaway.”
Mighty Moms purchased 100 turkeys to be used for the giveaway, which fed families across Denham Springs, Walker, and areas in lower Livingston Parish.
Along with monetary donations, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Livingston Parish School Board sent volunteers to assist Mighty Moms in meal deliveries to the more rural parts of the parish. Some deputies even dressed for the occasion, wearing turkey-themed hats as they loaded their vans and made deliveries.
Other families picked up their meals in a drive-through fashion on the grounds of Abundant Life Church.
Each household received a turkey, a box full of side dishes and snacks, and ingredients for an “apple dump cake” dessert. Most of the families who received meals are recipients of Mighty Moms’ Full Tummy Project, which gives weekend food bags to students who qualify.
“These are our Full Tummy kids,” Birdsong said, “so we wanted to make sure their families had something for Thanksgiving.”
To collect food, the organization invited the community to participate in a Thanksgiving “Pump’Can Patch” food drive. Throughout the month of November, people dropped off a variety of items, such as boxed stuffing, boxed potatoes, evaporated milk, cranberry sauce, canned gravy, yams/sweet potatoes, pumpkins, green beans, corn, and peas.
Birdsong said the donations “poured in” as people hoped to lend a helping hand, with volunteers having to sort through around 20,000 cans of food. Multiple schools held their own food drives for Mighty Moms, enough to fill a van “three times.”
“We couldn’t even get it sorted before we had more come in,” McCormick said. “It was very overwhelming and awesome.”
The co-founders thanked the organization Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and its director Dylan Ivy for assisting in the food drive.
“Dylan was a big help to us because he and some of his students helped us gather that food, which was a lot,” Birdsong said.
Because of the abundance of donations, Mighty Moms was able to assist other food pantries in the area.
“We loaded our van once and filled two trucks with food to help other local organizations, and we were still able to feed our Full Tummy families,” Birdsong said. “We were so grateful that people gave so much that we could help others. And it’s all going back into Livingston Parish to those who need it.”
On the day of the giveaway, more than a dozen volunteers spent their time storing food in bags, unloading and stacking boxes, and placing them in the cars of families in need. Parents and guardians thanked the volunteers many times while accepting the food, and children inside the vehicles smiled as their family received their Thanksgiving meal.
“Every year, this is the thing we all look forward to most,” McCormick said.