In 1987, a few families were surprised to see a new place open, St. Francis Diner, that would help anyone in need of a meal.
In 30 years, the diner grew to a place that would feed 2,000 a week to the elderly, families or anyone else who walked through the doors.
However, donations and lack of food have caused the diner on 1201 S. Hopkins Street in New Iberia closed until Monday (Sept. 12).
This week, Juanita Lewis, closed the diner and focused her time and energy, along with the staff and volunteers, to find enough donations and money to get it back open.
Lewis has been with the diner 22 years and has a staff of four.
During her 20th celebration serving the community, she said, “Twenty years of blood sweat and tears but memories I have made at this wonderful place. I’ve met beautiful people during my time serving Iberia Parish and surrounding areas. No greater love I have for this remarkable place as we’re the only Soup kitchen in New Iberia. May God give me my strength to keep helping those who come for breakfast or lunch. I am blessed to have come this far in the nonprofit world.”
The diner receives assistance from area churches, businesses and civic organizations as well as individuals who donate funds, food and supplies and their time.
Caroline Romero, who grew up as one of 18 children in a family, helped found the diner. While the diner is also a place for fellowship, the meals are the main draw.
Lewis is carrying on this legacy and wants to re-open with a goal to feed 175 a day.
When the doors closed, the word of mouth opened.
Keisha Guy, Mike Roddy and Ryan Riche from Courtesy Automotive Group showed up with a truck full of fresh meat and perishables to help open next week.
Guy said, “Courtesy Automotive Group would like to recognize Mrs. Juanita Lewis with St. Francis Diner, New Iberia, Louisiana for her continued love and support for the people in her community. Whether you need a warm hug or a hot meal Mrs. Juanita is always there serving up the best!”
The giving continued.
The Highland Baptist Christian School donated over $1,600 to the diner.
The Iberia Medical Center held an employee food drive. At Caneview Elementary school, staff held a dress-down day and donated all funds to the St. Francis Diner.
The outpouring of support should help the doors open Monday.
However, more help is needed.
Lewis does not want to turn away a child after school or an elderly member of the community who is looking forward to that special time of the day when they receive a hot, delicious meal and visit with wonderful people.
To donate, you can call and leave a message at (337) 369-3362. If you can’t stop at the diner, you can send a donation to the St. Francis Diner at P.O. Box 9106, New Iberia, La 70562.
John is a two-time national columnist of the year and AP award-winner in Texas and New York for breaking news, videos and sports. He earned the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award and has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX and CNN.