by Patrick Blanchard, OWL Production Manager

Many of us are blessed with natural talents and go through life almost unaware of the enormous good that can come from their regular use.  Howard Hines, our North Louisiana Development Officer, has honed his to the level of virtuoso.  What’s his talent?  Howard is a master of getting the right people together at the right time, and this is the story of the good that came from just one of those meetings!

 BACKGROUND

On Thursday, February 26, Howard arranged a lunch with several pastors and me to talk about the Screamin’ OWL Salsa and Jelly program.  One of the pastors was Warren Clifton of Faith Crossing UMC in Walker, Louisiana.  Warren had recently moved to South Louisiana from Shreveport where he and Howard had known each other for years.  (You’ll hear about another Pastor, Trey Harris, in next month’s Pathways!)

Rev. and Mrs. Warren Clifton, Faith Crossing UMC, Walker, LA.

After covering the somewhat dull facts about the salsa business itself, I began to talk about the church volunteers who help me make it and how it supports the Work that’s done at the OWL Center with the children.  That’s when the conversation got interesting.

I explained that many of the Home’s children become hardened to customary therapy long before they arrive on our doorstep.  After so much abuse, neglect and being passed around, they simply put up protective walls, oblivious to whether good or bad is kept out.  The Children’s Home staff who spend their days and nights with these children exemplify the tenets of Christian Faith in their interactions.  The “bad” that these children have gotten so used to is virtually eliminated; and slowly, some of them begin to open up.  Therapists at each of the Home’s three campuses offer supportive and probing sessions to help them to see a better way.

The OWL Center serves as the wild card in this therapeutic milieu.  Nestled in the piney woods of north Louisiana, the open pastures, reflective surfaces of our three ponds, sprawling lawns, grazing horses and goats, giant playground, bunkhouse, cabins, bonfires, lodge rooms and stunningly beautiful conference center all combine to displace distress with tranquility.  The children interact with nature in the presence of supporting and caring adults.  They brush horses, feed goats, paddle canoes, kick balls, eat s’mores and Ms. Lori’s love-filled lunches, all the while lifting their eyes and spirits to the horizon and beyond to the wonders of an adult life with promise and Faith that they do, indeed, have a place and a purpose in this world.

I finished my impassioned litany of the OWL Center by explaining that the proceeds from our odd-ball salsa and jelly program help to support the magnificent work at the OWL.  And they got it!  The pastors know we’re not in the salsa business.  We’re in the saving children ministry, and selling salsa & jelly just happens to be one of the mysterious ways we use to do it.

BACK TO THE MISSION

Getting back to the bottom line, I asked if any of the pastors had church members with connections to Imperial Sugar Refinery in Gramercy, Louisiana.  I had attempted to secure a donation of sugar to defray some of the cost of making Screamin’ OWL Jelly and to make the whole product “Louisiana Made.”  No one did, but said that they would ask.

About 10 days later Rev. Warren Clifton contacted me with great news.  After calling all over the country, he had finally made contact with Jerry Tolito, Imperial’s plant manager.  Jerry was optimistic that the refinery could donate some sugar and asked that we make a formal written request.  I drafted a letter to Ms. Tara Louque of the Imperial Sugar business office enclosing our charitable credentials.  After a short while and a follow-up email we were informed on a Thursday that our 4,800 pound sugar donation (that’s right – 2.8 tons!) was ready for pick up!

THE TRIP

We went into high gear at the OWL Center.  Samantha Luttrell & Grant Kleinpeter quickly emptied 24 bales of hay from our 20 ft. flatbed trailer.  I left in the rain hoping that the forecasted sunshine for Friday would hold true.  My mother Clare Blanchard put me up, washed my clothes (I didn’t have time to go home and pack) and fed me a nutritious breakfast at my childhood home in Donaldsonville “across the river” from Gramercy.

Friday morning I was haled onto the scales at Imperial Sugar Gate #7 at 7:30.

Imperial Sugar Refinery, Gramercy, LA
Imperial Sugar Refinery, Gramercy, LA

Imperial Sugar is located along the Mississippi River in Gramercy, Louisiana, about 40 miles north of New Orleans.  It gathers raw sugar from the area’s surrounding “sugar houses.” These smaller mills serve as local destinations for sugar cane farmers during “grinding” which is a colloquial term for the sugar cane harvest.  Imperial Sugar refines out the remaining traces of molasses and produces granulated white sugar that meets industry standards.

I parked near a giant warehouse and was greeted by Mr. Butch Bell, a man who could have been in his mid-30s but who notified me that he would be retiring soon after 40+ years at the refinery.  He walked me to his small office and made sure the paperwork did not hold up the loading process.  In no time Mr. Poche was traveling down the long warehouse ramp with a giant pallet of 4-pound sugar bags.  With two pallets fully loaded I asked Mr. Bell to take me to Tara Louque’s office.  I thanked her profusely and as I was backing away from the loading dock, I noticed another man walking toward me.

Mr. Jerry Tolito, Plant Manager, Imperial Sugar Refinery
Mr. Jerry Tolito, Plant Manager, Imperial Sugar Refinery

The plant manager Mr. Jerry Tolito was kind and generous and explained how he was glad to be able to help.  He asked us to contact him again next year to see if he could help with more sugar.  Thanking him on behalf of the Home and the OWL Center, I was on my way.

A low tire revealed itself as the trailer was being loaded, so I went to the first convenience store I could find with an air pump.  That got me back to Donaldsonville where I met up with my brother Jeffrey Blanchard.  He directed me to his shop where he and his wife Celia helped me air up the trailer tire and the two back tires of the now heavily loaded pickup truck.

 

Sugar donation arrives at MCH with from left: Patrick Blanchard, Luke Allen, and Rick Wheat. (photo courtesy of Adam Hohlt - Ruston Daily Leader)
Sugar donation arrives at MCH with from left: Patrick Blanchard, Luke Allen, and Rick Wheat. (photo courtesy of Adam Hohlt – Ruston Daily Leader)

On the way back to Ruston I contacted Adam Hohlt of the Ruston Daily Leader who agreed to get a picture of the sugar in front of the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home sign.  He graciously did and provided the picture at no charge!

At the OWL Center we began to offload the sugar in 10-bag bundles at a time.  In addition to OWL staff Cindy Croft and Jennifer Pesnell, we enjoyed the help of NOMADS Bob & Paige Riewe.  Then it got really interesting!  St. Paul’s UMC was having a ladies retreat at the OWL Center, and part of the retreat is a fully costumed Last Supper.  So, as we finished loading the last of the sugar, the men who would be the Lord’s apostles that evening joined forces with our small staff and finished the job in no time.

 THE MORAL OF THE STORY

We are surrounded by so much in life that overwhelms us and makes us feel insignificant from time to time.  Sometimes we even feel like “this little light of mine” isn’t even worth shining.  Let this story be a testament to the importance of even our least glamorous talents when we use them for the greater good.  We were all truly blessed on this mission.  It would be disingenuous to ignore the Unseen Hands that made it so sweet.