Food Network star and paid Smithfield spokeswoman Paula Deen visited Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon to raise awareness about hunger in our communities. Deen joined Sean and Jessica Burnett, John Lannan, Maryanne Gerry and Rachel Dunn to help the Nationals, Harris Teeter and Smithfield donate 100,000 servings of ham to the Capital Area Food Bank.
"From my standpoint, I just have this love of feeding people," Deen said. "I can't stand the thought of anybody being hungry. So it's been a very rewarding project for me."
The event was part of the company's Helping Hungry Homes initiative, a project to feed 20 million people over the next two years and shed light on hunger issues in America.
Deen first became passionate about the project after visiting a food bank in Tampa during the holidays in 2008. A staff person informed her that the donated food would be consumed before noon that day. She says that experience opened her eyes.
"We've got a crisis on our hands that a lot of people are not aware of -- and that's the working hungry," Deen said, noting that often families who used to donate food are now becoming recipients.
In the Washington D.C. area, over 633,000 people are at risk of hunger and 47% of those are children.
"I've been very close to being hungry myself. My children probably don't realize just how close we came," said continued. "People know how important family and food are to me, so I really think it's helped to just make people aware."
Fans are encouraged to donate food items throughout the weekend as part of the Nationals' Annual Food Drive collection. On Saturday and Sunday, volunteers will be stationed at the Center Field Gate until the fourth inning to collect whole grains such as dried pasta and rice, soups and canned vegetables and paper products.
"We're very fortunate. I couldn't imagine being in a situation where food wasn't always on the table for you, so anything we can do to help out is pretty neat. That's what we're all about here," said Nationals reliever Sean Burnett.
Burnett, who describes himself as the family cook, admits to watching Deen's show for tips and guidance especially in the offseason. And John Lannan watched a taping of the show in Savannah back in 2006.
"This is huge for the Nationals to do this and for Paula to come down to help out Smithfield and Harris Teeter to give the hams. Maybe the fans can come out this weekend and do the same," said Lannan.
Deen will also throw the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday night's game against the Mets. She's already tossed one first pitch at a Savannah Sand Gnats game, but she took a practice throw to Screech using a ham.
"If he just knew what I did with birds that look like him, he'd be running for the hills," Deen joked.
Catch Paula on Nats Xtra on Wednesday before the game.
More pictures are available on MASN's Facebook page.