Debra South Jones is the founder of Just The Right Attitude, the second largest food bank in Louisiana. In the late ’90s she was a successful accountant for a local newspaper. Then, she was diagnosed with both ovarian and thyroid cancer. Doctors were pessimistic and her husband left her. She had medical insurance but it was insufficient. She had to choose between feeding her two children and paying $1,200 each month for pain medication. Out of desperation, Debra forced herself to apply for food stamps but the government somehow deemed her too well-off for food stamps. Debra vowed in that moment that if she survived, she would found an organization that treated needy people with grace and dignity.
JTRA is now thriving and successful. In 2010 the organization distributed 795,000 pounds of food to 45,975 individuals in the New Orleans East and Gentilly communities. The food bank also served 42,287 hot meals. Is there anything this woman can’t do?!
Suzannah Schneider: What does Just The Right Attitude do for Thanksgiving?
Debra South Jones: We serve up a big meal for anyone who comes in the door! Our annual Thanksgiving lunch takes place the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 11:00 am. We run an article in local papers and announce the meal on WWLTV on the morning news with Sally Ann Roberts. We serve all the Thanksgiving classics: turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, candied yams, and vegetables.
SS: What are the biggest struggles during holiday time at JTRA?
DSJ: It’s difficult to keep up with the extra demand for food on our side, plus we have many more hot meals to serve than usual. It’s especially difficult for us because we don’t receive city, state, or federal funding. We survive off private donations, fundraising, and some foundation funds.
SS: Any New Orleans-specific issues of food insecurity and hunger?
DSJ: People in New Orleans can’t seem to catch a break. We’re still hurting from the BP oil spill, plus Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Add the economic crisis in the mix and we’re facing some very difficult times. This means that every day is a struggle for food. Food insecurity is the number one issue in most families. Plus, New Orleans doesn’t have a lot of grocery stores, especially in poorer communities. This means that it’s that much harder to find fresh food.
SS: What was your favorite food as a child?
DSJ: Fried chicken and French fries!
SS: What is your favorite meal?
DSJ: Rib eye steak and a baked potato.
SS: Do you prefer to cook, order in, or take out?
DSJ: Eat out
SS: Is there anything you won’t eat?
SS: One thing you wish someone had told you earlier in life?
DSJ: Haha yes – beware of men with green eyes!! (my ex husband)
SS:Do you use recipes when you cook? If so, do you have a favorite cookbook?
DSJ: I use recipes from my 73-year-old mom, Delores Wiltz.
SS: Cake or pie?
DSJ: Sweet potato pie!
Suzannah Schneider is a junior at Tulane University interested in food systems and all things chocolate. She’s interning at NOLA Locavores and wants to help make fresh, healthy food available to everyone.