NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — The grocery store walk up window is where it all started for Burnell Cotlon.

That’s all he could do to serve his customers before he had the funds to open the door to Burnell’s Lower 9 Market.

“When I tell you everything went out this itty bitty window — milk, eggs, bread, cheese — you name it, it went out this window,” Cotlon said.

However, that wasn’t his first career. Cotlon spent 14 years in Germany serving for the United States Army. He came back to New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina.

“I lost everything just like everybody else,” Cotlon said. “I always tell everyone to value and appreciate everything because having to start all over, I don’t wish this on nobody.”

That was why he started doing everything he could to lend a helping hand. He opened the market, built the shelves by hand, and started giving away hot meals.

He also started selling souvenirs to turn that money around to buy ice cream for the neighborhood children.

“He’s my general,” Cotlon’s mom, Lillie Cotlon said. “I’m supposed to be the leader but I follow his lead.”

The only time she didn’t was when she encouraged him to quit his old job and open up the market.

Saturday, on VFW National Day of Service, his neighbors repaid the favor.

“It’s one story after another of things he’s done for his community. So, we’re doing the same thing,” Bill Thomason with the Paint the Block Competition, said. “You’ve got every different race, political affiliation, we’re all coming together to improve our community.”

“This is phenomenal. I love it,” Cotlon said. “My community is gonna love it and it’s going to change the whole game for everybody. I just want the lower ninth ward to catch up with the rest of the city.”