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'If you're not bringing a paycheck home... how do you buy the turkey?'

Second Harvest food bank says it is preparing a record number of meals for Thanksgiving.

NEW ORLEANS — With a slumping economy and tens thousands of people in Louisiana unemployed, the need for services remains high as we approach the holiday season. One of the largest kitchens in the state is trying to make sure vulnerable families get a decent meal for Thanksgiving but cooking for 6,000 requires a lot of advance work.

“We’re roasting the turkeys today, slicing them tomorrow,” said Mark Quitney, executive chef at Second Harvest Food Bank.

While the pandemic is forcing many families to change how and where to celebrate Thanksgiving, its chokehold on the economy is causing thousands of others to possibly go hungry this holiday.

“It’s a big issue because if you’re not bringing a paycheck home every week, how do you go out and buy the turkey and all the extras that make your thanksgiving holiday special?” asked Pat Blackman.

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Blackman is a volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank, which has been a lifeline to thousands of people this year. As Thanksgiving draws near, the food bank is getting more calls for help.

“So many people are hungry, and they need so much, and they’re not used to having to ask for it,” said Blackman as she was packing Thanksgiving dinner trays.

“It’s just really crazy. You’ve seen the numbers increase dramatically, you’ve seen what my fellow restaurateurs have been doing and the service industry to help feed people, but that need has just grown tremendously,” said Chef Quitney.

Since March, Second Harvest Food Bank has helped more than 400,000 people. That’s more than double the amount of people it reached the same period last year.

Chef Quitney understands how COVID is turning lives upside down. He joined the food bank a few months ago.

“COVID has changed my life too. I worked for Marriott for 29 years. I worked for Hilton for a very short time and look where I am today. Like the rest of my friends, we’ve definitely changed what we do and how do it, but I’m blessed to be here,” said Chef Quitney.

Quitney says he finds purpose at the food bank. The mission now is to make sure anyone who needs a meal on Thanksgiving will get one…sides and all.