John Proctor is the Director of Operations at the New Orleans Mission (1129 Baronne St.; www.neworleansmission.org), where he is responsible for providing hundreds of meals to homeless men and women each day. Proctor spoke with Gambit about the shelter's annual Thanksgiving meal, food outreach in the community and the motivation behind his work.
How did you become involved the New Orleans Mission?
Proctor: Working here is a calling. I have a food service background, working as a personal cook offshore for 10 or 12 years, and that's my Louisiana history. I answered a calling after that to come here and be of service. I've worked here coming up on three years.
How many meals does the Mission serve each day?
P: I'm in charge of all food services here, and it consists of procuring, preparing and serving three meals a day. We average, on a normal day, 700 [meals] and we usually feed about 150 for breakfast, 250 for lunch and 300 for supper. What we do is we open our doors to the public in the evening, so we not only feed people who spend the night with us or are in our program, but anybody who walks in off the street is welcome to have dinner with us if they are there by 6 p.m. in the evening.
We go out to the neighborhood three times a week and we take small sacks of nonperishable food to distribute. Our area is depressed socioeconomically and the Mission is truly more than just a building. We're part of this area, part of this neighborhood. People don't always know what we do here, so we like to get the word out. Food's always a good way to start a conversation, especially in Louisiana.
We take out a minimum of 100 [bags] a week, but other groups join us sometimes, so on an average we take out between 300-500 of these bags of food a week.
Are there any special plans for Thanksgiving?
P: We have our big Thanksgiving feast — that's what we call it — coming up, where we open our doors to the public. It's going to be Nov. 22. We do this the weekend before Thanksgiving. We try to feed between 400-500 inside for a sit-down dinner, then we take 300 prepared plates of food out through the neighborhood.
It's a true Thanksgiving feast. We're going to serve turkey, cornbread dressing, ham, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and mixed vegetables. Hard Rock Cafe is a big contributor to this, and they're going to supply at least 200 of the meals. They [collaborated] with us last year, too. There's a crew of six who will prepare all of this, starting on the 20th.
It's rare in life to do what the Lord has for you to do, and that it falls in line with what you enjoy doing. It's a win-win when you're doing what you love for who you love. You can't beat that.