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NEWORLEANS-- The New Orleans Mission will host its first Thanksgiving since Hurricane Katrina struck the city. For the first time in seven years, the homeless shelter will open its doors to help the less fortunate on this holiday -- a milestone event.

Volunteers started cooking before dawn to serve meals to the hundreds of people expected to turn out for the Thanksgiving meal at 12 p.m.

One volunteer, Tony McKenzie, who was assisted by the Mission when he was in need, came in to help serve food. McKenzie, like others helped by the Mission who then return to volunteer, is known as a disciple.

'It helped me whole lot. I was real troubled coming up,' said McKenzie. 'They got me to see me for what I am; it changed me a whole lot inside as a person. By helping other people, it helps me. Ilove helping people now.'

The Mission has plenty to be thankful for as well. The shelter nearly closed it doors this summer due to financial woes and and underwent a major leadership change. David Bottner was hired as the executive director and paid $1 for his salary in an effort to save money and help the financially stressed shelter.

Bottner said the shelter was able to have the Thanksgiving dinner because of a great amount of donations. 'What we've seen is such a tremendous outpouring from our donors. They've just been so faithful in their support.'

The donations, which include a walk-in freezer and refrigerated truck, have helped the Mission get more food and serve even more meals than it had in the past. Bottner said the Mission expects to 200-250 meals for breakfast on Thanksgiving. 'That couldn't be done if we didn't have the resources.'

Since city officials recently cleared underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway where many homeless were staying, Bottner said the Mission has seen the number of guests spike.

'We've seen it as a positive,' said Bottner. 'It's more people we can serve, more people we can get off the streets.'

Bridge House is also hosting its annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the area's homeless and needy families. Those in need will not only get a hot meal, but also clothing and toiletries.

Organizers said they've seen a dramatic increase in the number of people looking for help these days. The Thanksgiving dinner is at the old Bridge House at 1160 Camp Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The special meal is made possible through community donations.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman will join in as well, serving a Thanksgiving dinner at the Morial Convention Center. The event starts at 10 a.m. and has entertainment too. Irma Thomas is scheduled to perform.

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