Food distribution to oil spill victims draws more than 200 (VIDEO)


BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. — Former U.S. Marine Mitch Smith said he never expected to be standing in line for free food.

He was one of more than 200 people waiting Thursday at St. Margaret’s Catholic Church. The line started forming about 6 a.m., three hours before the food was going to be handed out.

The 60-year-old Smith, who lives in the Bayou, lost his job at a seafood processing plant after the Gulf oil spill erupted in April.

He receives monthly disability compensation but said he needs a job to keep food on the table. He said he has gotten two claims checks from BP.

“I have been working all of my life and taking care of myself,” Smith said. “Having to ask for food isn’t right.”

The food distribution was the seventh since June in an area where the spill has caused severe hardship. Bay Area Food Bank and Boat People SOS Inc. are coordinating the efforts.

Oak McCulloch, the Food Bank’s associate director, said the giveaways will continue “until we can’t afford to do it or until everybody goes back to work.”

Alma Bryant High School students, Americorps participants, Hands on South Alabama volunteers and the 167th Infantry Alabama National Guard handed out the food — eggs, meat, cereal, potatoes, canned goods and desserts.

“It helps me see how bad things are, and that there are so many things we can do to help,” said Alma Bryant freshman Ashton Graham.

“You see the desperate need,” said Meaghan Campbell, an Americorps volunteer from Virginia.

On Thursday, according to McCulloch, at least 228 families received more than 11,000 pounds of food.

Paul Wright, 43, said he worked off and on for 20 years unloading seafood boats and packing shrimp but was laid off after the spill. He can’t read and write, he said, and doesn’t have the skills to find another job.

BP paid him some claims money, he said, but he couldn’t get more because he lacked the needed documentation and tax records to show adjusters.

Wright, a father of four, said he’s trying again under a new claims process administered by federal czar Ken Feinberg and hopes to hear something this week.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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