Honoring Our Heroes – Lawrence DeHart

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Honoring Our Heroes – Deputy Melanie LeBlanc
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Terrebonne Churches United Food Bank

For a food bank that serves 1.2 million pounds of food to 10,500 people in a year, at any given day, challenges can arise. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 brought a new set of challenges for Terrebonne Churches United (TCU) Food Bank and its Executive Director, Lawrence DeHart.

“This year has been unreal,” Lawrence shares. “Year to date, we have served 16,000 people and have handed out $1.7 of food and are on pace to cross the 19,000-mark [of people served] and hand out 2 million pounds of found.”

Lawrence and his team not only had to find additional revenue for the food bank, which had a major uptick in demand as the pandemic affected the local economy, but they also had to replace 70 percent of their volunteers — many of which are age 60-plus and decided to sit out over concerns of catching the virus.

Additionally, due to COVID restrictions and not wanting to spread the virus, the lobby of the facility had to close – which is no small feat as each distribution session sees anywhere from 25 to 40 families.

Nonetheless, the TCU Food Bank overcame those challenges to serve the people of Terrebonne Parish.

The organization switched to a drive-through distribution system and began giving out packages of food that could last a family 30 days  — a new system Lawrence and his managers had to come up with within just two days. “We got four hours of sleep in 48 hours,” Lawrence remembers.

Needing some extra hands, members of the National Guard and Air Force also assist the food bank with the distribution.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that we never closed. We never shut down any one of our 19 programs,” Lawrence expresses. “We came up with a very safe way to where none of our volunteers come in direct contact with a client.”

The director also notes that the TCU Food Bank also added a program that delivers food to COVID-19 positive individuals so they don’t go searching for food and expose other people and supplies the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness during emergencies, which saw plenty of action this year due to the many tropical storm threats.

Because of their high risks of exposure, Lawrence and his staff and volunteers all had to make sacrifices in their personal lives. “In the middle of all of this, we could not see anyone outside of our families because of our high-exposure rates,” he shares. “I’m a brand new grandfather for the first time. And for the first six months, I never got to hold my grandbaby. We have more than a few stories just like that…Everyone who volunteered here had to make a very conscious decision; they paid the price with stuff like that.”

He’s also very proud of the fact through all of this, the food bank hasn’t had one volunteer, staff member or client that has had interaction or contact with COVID, he says.

Everyone involved with the TCU Food Bank, including the members of the military, all became close and like family through the pandemic, Lawrence shares.

Lawrence says anyone wishing to make a donation can do so through tcufoodbank.org and volunteers are still needed.

“We love this community. We love the people we serve. We are honored and blessed,” he adds. “Anybody who volunteers here, I promise you with every fiber of my body, your life will be forever changed and you know you’re making a difference because we’re here for Terrebonne Parish. We’re not just giving a handout; we’re giving a hand-up…We’re there for them. We’re there to help them.”  POV