NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It began as a simple tribute in 2004. Eleven years later, the St. Joseph's Altar at St. Francis Xavier Church is beautiful, bountiful and really big.
"I know for a fact there are 35,000 cookies that have been made starting in January with workshops basically every weekend except Mardi Gras," said altar organizer Jack Siciliano.
This massive Metairie altar opened for viewing Wednesday. It honors St. Joseph and the relief he provided during a famine in Sicily. Each food has significance, from the breads shaped as carpentry tools to the fava beans - the only crop to survive the drought. And there are lemons, lots and lots of lemons.
"The history goes that if a single girl steals a lemon without being caught, she's probably going to get married within a year," Siciliano said. "We actually have a couple of testimonial letters written back to us that said it worked."
When the altar closes Thursday night, the edible food will be boxed up and donated to nine local charities. What's no longer fit for human consumption will be taken to the Mississippi River.
"The fish are very receptive to it," Siciliano said. "Because the food is blessed, we don't put it in the garbage. We consider it blessed, so we treat it reverently."
Parishioner JoAnn Miller helped make the cookies. She loves watching the St. Joseph's altar come together.
"You see everything spread around and then all of a sudden everybody starts putting things on the altar, and it just comes together and I get amazed," she said. "I mean working with it, it's like wow!"