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Tue May 10, 2011
Community Impact Series -- Just the Right Attitude
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, La. –
Hal Chambers was doing well as a self-employed plumber in New Orleans. But as the recession put a chill on large building projects, business started drying up, and soon things got very bad for him.
"It got to be a point where, you know, I didn't have nothing in my refrigerator or cupboards to eat," Hal says. "I was like Old Mother Hubbard. Went to the cupboard and nothing was there."
Hal was hungry. But soon he found an extraordinarily accessible local resource to help him get back on track. He found Just the Right Attitude, a nonprofit based in New Orleans East that serves hot meals, supplies groceries for home and provides other assistance to anyone in need. Its special niche, though, are those who need help yet don't qualify for government assistance, as founder and director Debra South Jones explains.
"There are so many working people out here that go to bed hungry at night. There's a lot of people that said, oh we're not eating lunch today, oh I'm on a diet.' And then you find out they're saying that because they don't have any money to eat," Debra says. "So that's why it's hard to judge a book by just one look. You know just because a person has a nice house and a nice car doesn't mean there's not problems behind the doors."
Debra brings an intensely personal perspective to this. In the mid-1990s, she had a good job as an accountant for a local company. But when she was diagnosed with thyroid and ovarian cancer, her medical expenses shot out of control. Her husband left and she found herself unable to provide for her children. But when she sought relief at the welfare office, she was turned away because of her income. It was a dark time for her.
"I've never forgotten what it felt like that day. When I left that office and didn't know how I was going to feed my children. That's something you never forget. You never forget that," she says. "So my promise to God was, if you allow me to live that I would do something that other people would not be humiliated and not be helped. Because my tax dollars pay for food stamp assistance and for all the other government assistance. But when I needed help it wasn't there for me."
Her answer was Just the Right Attitude, which started as a grassroots food bank in the garage of her New Orleans East home. Debra eventually beat her cancer and Just the Right Attitude has grown into a major organization. It now serves people in space provided by the Toyota of New Orleans auto dealership off Interstate 10, where the kitchen serves some 5,500 hot meals and where up to 2,000 families receive groceries in any given month. Funded entirely through private donations and foundation grants, the group dispenses this assistance based solely on need, just as Hal Chambers experienced when he was down.
"Basically I walked in one day and, you know, I was served. I was helped," Hal says. "It really has helped me, and I know it could help other people just as well."
Just the Right Attitude
13150 I 10 Service Road
New Orleans, LA 70128