Dig Baton Rouge

Eat. Pray. Love: Gameday donations showcase football community

The city of Baton Rouge almost comes to a standstill on the weekends of a football home game. Thousands of residents head out to support their beloved LSU Tigers or Southern Jaguars, and hundreds more come from out of state to support their teams.

But some residents use football weekends as more than a chance to cheer in the bleachers—it’s also a chance to give back to the community. One of the places receiving those game day donations is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The non-profit organization has existed almost as long as LSU has. Since 1865, SVDP has helped those in need providing shelter and care. In 1963, the St. Vincent de Paul store opened allowing residents access clothing, bedding, food and other essential items for free. The Society also provides hot meals for the homeless and elderly in their Dining Room and a pharmacy with free medicines.

All of these things are able to happen based on the donations of money, time and effort of SVDP workers and volunteers, CEO Michael Acaldo said.

“We have over 400 volunteers who visit the homes of those in need,” he said. “When we can we even help cover things such as utility payments and that’s not possible without these people giving their time and resources.”

On a gameday weekend, Acaldo said he thinks there are two reasons people donate, one of which is the community’s desire to help those in need and the other is impact of the August floods. He said many out-of-towners donate due to the devastation they see swept the Baton Rouge area and then go watch their teams play against the home teams.

Most LSU games are at night, which gives donors more time in the day to gather the items they wish to give away than if the Tigers played at 11 a.m.

“There’s a sense of togetherness that washes over the city on home game weekends,” Acaldo said. “These people wake up with a spirit of football excitement that turns into a desire to give to local non-profits. I’ve been to a large amount of LSU games in my life and there’s certainly a family feeling on that campus on gameday.”

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Many gameday donations are clothing and food based, which is continually a need. The workers and volunteers at SVDP spend hours and days separating and organizing the items for later dispersal.

Matthew Seiter, a fan of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, drove into Baton Rouge a few days before the Oct. 15 game. With him, he had two bags of clothes and another bag of non-perishables to donate to SVDP. He said the damages he saw on the news reminded him of what Louisiana went through during Hurricane Katrina and felt that he had to help.

“It’s not much in the large scope,” Seiter said. “I grabbed what I figured people would need, but I’m thinking about going to Walmart and getting more. Even with a year like this, Baton Rouge is still one of the most hospitable places I’ve been to and these people deserve as much help as they can get.”

Currently, Society of St. Vincent de Paul is preparing for the rush of the holiday season. Acaldo said donations of pastas, green beans, cranberry sauce and other non-perishables are key at this time so SVDP can provide successful holiday meals for as many citizens as possible.

Since the floods, Acaldo said he’s seen an all-time high of people going out of their way for others. Even those who were impacted by the floods are volunteering their time, money and items to those who sustained more damage to their lives.

“It’s extremely uplifting,” he said. “These people are helping others before they help themselves and no one is asking them to do it. It’s all on a person’s character. That same character exists when it comes to gameday football.”

Photos by Emily Brauner.

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