As New Orleanians give thanks, volunteers say they're reaping the greatest benefits



Posted on November 25, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 25 at 7:31 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- "I was convinced that I was going to die, end up in a mental institution... I just didn't know there was any way out," said Kim Phillips as he stood outside the Bridge House on Thanksgiving.

But the recovered alcoholic did find a way out, with help from the subtance abuse treatment center.

And on a day when people around the country give thanks, Phillips made it a point to give back to the institution that helped him win his fight against alcoholism, drug abuse, and homelessness 20 years ago.

"We flew in from Colorado yesterday, and this was at the top of my list to volunteer and try to give back," said Phillips.  

For Phillips, that means more than giving out cool drinks and warm meals as part of the Bridge House's annual Thanksgiving meal. Phillips aimed to share some hope as well.

"Kind of let them know you can do it," said Phillips. "There's an old saying, 'As long as there's breath, there's hope.'"

It comes at a time when more people are in need, according to Bridge House officials. In a tough economy, over 350 were expected to take part in the Thanksgiving meal.

"There's a great need in the city, but there's also a generous heart here," said Bridge House CEO  "Buzzy" Gaiennie.

You can see that generosity all over town. At Sheriff Marlin Gusman's annual Thanksgiving dinner, volunteers like Laval Franklin spent their vacation serving others.

"The city has seen a lot of tough times. I've been here, I was born and raised here, and for me to see this, and see this continue every year, this is a blessing for me," said Franklin. "It's a blessing to see people happy."

Originally geared toward senior citizens, the event is now open to anyone looking for a warm meal and live music.

"I'm immobilized, I have my wheelchair, and I have multiple sclerosis, and I just to hear the music," said Carol Scott, who has been coming to the event for three years.

"This is my first time coming here, but I'm having a ball," said Irene Francois, who danced to the live band.

Meanwhile, Phillips said everyday is Thanksgiving for him.

"I just can't tell you the gratitude I feel for what Bridge House has given me. I was hopeless, and I found hope here."

The Bridge House is a non-profit substance abuse treatment center that's funded by donations. For more information, call (504) 522-4475.