By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — —
More than 620 hot meals were provided to area residents in need Monday thanks to the Operation Love project.
The annual program, established by John Paul and Johnna Braswell, is funded through the Mt. Vernon Elks Lodge 819 and through private donations.
On Monday, numerous volunteers gathered at the Elks Lodge to prepare the meals in question, which were then delivered to locations throughout Mt. Vernon.
Some residents chose to pick up their own meals Monday as well.
“It just gives a meal to somebody that's sort of down-trodden or maybe they've lost a spouse during the year,” said Raymond Baril, Elks Lodge secretary and a volunteer. “Operation Love is what the (program) is called and that's what we do, spread a little Christmas cheer to people that aren't necessarily income-deprived, but just somebody that needs a little attention.”
The program was started in 1995 and has grown considerably since then, said co-founder John Paul Braswell. In the first year, 125 meals were served while this year at least 625 meals were expected, Braswell said.
“It's for helping people that can't get out and get something to eat,” Braswell said. “It's just helping the community.”
Those who wanted a meal had to call the Elks Lodge ahead of time to make a reservation. The meals were delivered within the Mt. Vernon city limits.
Among other sites, meals were delivered to Rome Meadows, Rose Lane, Garden Glen, Lifeboat Alliance and the United Methodist Children's Home.
“There's a lot of people that don't get a good hot meal and this way they get one, and it's a pretty good meal,” said volunteer Keith Law.
The meal included turkey, vegetables, bread, cake and milk.
Agaytha Baltzell, a volunteer and Elk's Lodge member, said Monday was her first time assisting with Operation Love.
The program, she said, serves a very important purpose in the community.
“Especially for those that can't get out, it's very important that they get a meal delivered,” Baltzell said.