It’s very common for Gretna and Westbank residents to have social gatherings where they over-prepare scrumptious meals for family and guests, and find themselves asking when it’s all over, “O my goodness, what do I do with all this food?”

A solution is to take that food to the Westbank Community Fridge, located at 3504 4th Street, near the corner of MacArthur Avenue in Harvey. You can take in all for them to divide and make ready for distribution or, you can put each meal in a throwaway, disposable container, mark the main ingredients and the date on the container so it is ready to go into the “fridge.”

Your leftovers and thoughtfulness will bring more joy than you can ever imagine to many hungry, needy people, some old, some sick and some in a spell of bad luck. The community pantry and refrigerator are the only source of food for many.

The community fridge is operated by the Gilmores and here’s their story.

Keri Gilmore celebrated her 56th birthday on February 19, 2021 with a visit to an upscale beauty salon near Rampart and Villere Street in New Orleans. While in the neighborhood, Richard “Rick” Gilmore, her husband who had dropped her off saw a community pantry near that location and was struck with the wonder of it. “This is pretty awesome,” he thought and couldn’t wait to show Keri what he had seen.

They talked it over and with approval from their landlord, who soon became a supporter himself, had the Westbank Community Fridge open by March 21, 2021.

“Someone drove by and asked about the pantry and fridge,” Keri said. “They had been supporting a community pantry in Nola and said they wanted to help here. They posted a picture on Noisy Neighbor on Facebook and the rest was history! We started having people donate food.”

The Gilmores got busy and stay busy every day. Keri works remotely for a company in her hometown, Cleveland, Ohio and Rick is a retired salesman and truck driver.

“The refrigerator is always stocked, 24-7, with boxed meals ready to be picked up and enjoyed by those who need a helping hand. Even if the food supply gets short, the fridge is always stocked with bottles of water,” she said.

“The food pantry is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It holds dry food items, some products that can be cooked at home for those who have the means available to do so. There are cameras installed here for everyone’s safety.

“Some of our members, as we call our guests, are housebound so several people volunteer to bring food to them. Many of the homeless are bicycle riders. We have the elderly and single moms, living from paycheck to paycheck. Traditional charities are mostly based on income, but we base on need. We have some people who come from all over, Bridge City, Westwego and some who even came from Luling,” she said.

The Gilmores are very pleased by the people who drop off food, ready to go. Food donations have been steady, but they can always use more. When they don’t have enough donated ready-to-eat meals, Rick does the cooking, preparing menus around what uncooked food has been donated.

“We are feeding at least 50 people most days, from all walks of life. After (Hurricane) Ida we were feeding 100-150 each day. About 95% of everything goes to people in need. We don’t lose a lot considering we are wide open. I’d say 80% of the food is donated. We buy the rest and supplies, like food containers, plastic silverware, and always bottles of water,” he said.

Rick was really smiling when he said, “We had Jefferson Parish Health inspectors come here to check on us because they were erroneously told that we were selling food. They understood that we were not. They inspected the refrigerator and said, “Everything looks good. It’s the cleanest refrigerator we have ever seen!”

Then on March 18, 2022, the Gilmores received a Certificate of Recognition acknowledging their work during Hurricane Ida from Louisiana Lt. Governor, Billy Nungesser, a very proud moment, indeed!

“We love helping the community the people, but isn’t that what we are supposed to do? We have certainly put ourselves in this humbling position. I was never poor. I always had food. It definitely has put a new perspective on my life,” Keri said.

The plan from both of them is to keep going forward. “Our goal is to set up more locations. This Westbank Community Pantry and Fridge is our pilot program.”