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‘A godsend’: Sorority donates 17,000 meals for disaster relief after ending New Orleans convention early

Latiya White, left, Gina Murray and Gina Holmes, members of Delta Sigma Theta from Atlantic City, N.J., stand in the French Quarter, which was nearly empty as the city braced for Tropical Storm Barry on Saturday in New Orleans, where the sorority was holding its national convention. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As Tropical Storm Barry encroached on the New Orleans area Friday, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority made a tough decision — to conclude its 16,000-person biennial national convention early. But then came an easier decision: saving the convention’s 17,000 uneaten meals for those affected by the storm.

Beverly E. Smith, Delta Sigma Theta’s national president and chief executive, said in an email that the sorority was “delighted” to donate the food from a canceled luncheon and evening gathering, catered by the company Centerplate.

“There was inordinate amounts of food that would have been wasted. Kudos to Centerplate,” Smith said.

The sorority, a predominantly black organization founded by 22 women in 1913 at Howard University, announced Friday that it would be closing the convention at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The national convention, scheduled to run through Sunday, was in its 54th year.

Amy Sins was contacted by the convention center and Centerplate to find a place to donate the meals.

Sins, a New Orleans chef who has spent the past decade aiding in recovery efforts around New Orleans, reached out to Second Harvest Food Bank, which sent over one of its 53-foot refrigerated trucks to pick up the servings of macaroni and cheese, flourless chocolate cake, potatoes au gratin and chicken.

The meals will remain in a Second Harvest freezer until the storm subsides, according to Jay Vise, communications director of Second Harvest Food Bank. Then, teams will head out into New Orleans and the surrounding areas to deliver the warmed meals.

“To have all these meals ahead of time is really a godsend,” Vise said.

The storm, which made landfall Saturday afternoon as a hurricane, has caused flooding, heavy winds and loss of power in the Southeast. The U.S. Department of Energy announced that over 66,000 customer outages were reported in Louisiana by Saturday morning. Continued flooding is possible as Barry moves inland.

Many in the region have supplies on hand in case of events such as flooding, Vise said, but after a few days without proper supplies, a hot meal can be enormously positive for someone who has lost power or is staying in a temporary shelter.

And the food, items such as warm potato and chicken, rather than canned goods and sliced bread, can lift the spirits of those who have suffered losses during a storm.

“We’re not just trying to feed their tummies,” Sins said. “We’re also kind of trying to feed their soul.”

Sins knows the power of assistance such as a warm meal after a disaster. She lost her home on New Orleans’s 17th Street Canal during Hurricane Katrina.

“A lot of people helped me,” Sins said. “And I always said that when I could get back up on my feet, I was going to do everything I could to help other people.”

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Louisiana braces for heavy rain and winds as Barry encroaches on Gulf Coast