Paula Deen is a big deal.

The "Queen of Southern Cuisine" is a Food Network Star, host of three different cooking shows.  She owns a world famous, sold out every night restaurant in Savannah, GA.  She's one of the most popular speakers at conventions across America.

And yesterday, she spent the entire day at Nationals Park, raising awareness to fight hunger and entertaining military families through her work with the USO.

Ms. Deen arrived at Nats Park with her entourage, including her faithful husband Michael Groover, around 6:00 am.  For two hours she "toured the country", as she said, via remote satellite TV broadcasts, explaining how she, together with Smithfield Foods, has a goal to feed 20 million people in the next three years.

At a ceremony at lunchtime at the centerfield gate, Ms. Deen, along with representatives from Smithfield, the Capital Area Food Bank, Harris Teeter and Nationals players John Lannan and Sean Burnett, and Nats First Ladies Jessica Burnett, Rachel Dunn and Maryanne Gerry, unloaded a trailer full of ham products to donate to the food bank.

The event is part of Smithfield's "Helping Hungry Homes" initiative.

"Smithfield and I started doing this in 2008," Ms. Deen told reporters.  "About six, nine months ago, we made a commitment that we would attempt to feed 20 million people within the next two years.  We've hit seven million so far, so we're right on target."

When asked how she felt personally being involved in this type of project, Ms. Deen replied, "From my standpoint, I just have this love of feeding people.  I can't stand the thought of anybody being hungry. So it's been a very rewarding project for me."

"People know how important family and food are to me, so I really think it's helped to just make people aware."

Later in the day, Ms. Deen highlighted a reception for military families at the Nats Rooftop Party Deck, sponsored by the USO. 

She spoke briefly about her feelings about the U.S. troops, and then took questions from the very involved crowd, which usually ended up with her asking the individuals about their service, injuries, and returning home to their families.

Kevin Wensing, V.P. of the Executive Office of the USO, spoke about the importance of supporting our troops and their families.

"The USO was founded almost 70 years ago with the mission of lifting the spirits of our troops and their families.  The Nationals have been a great partner of the USO for many years.  It's part of the nature of the Washington Nationals to support the troops and their families, especially our wounded warriors, who deserve everything we can do for them."

Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Peter King, a big supporter of the USO, attended the reception as well, and spoke to me about his involvement with supporting the troops.

"I can't do enough for the USO.  I'll do whatever I can.  There is not a better cause than the USO, in my opinion."

Following the reception, Ms. Deen jumped on the back of a golf cart and wheeled down to field level, where she spoke with MASN's Debbie Taylor and NatsHD host Clint Khoury about her day, and joked with Screech about serving fried chicken!

(Photo By Tom Bridge/

"If he just knew what I did with birds that look like him, he'd be running for the hills," Ms. Deen joked.

She was offered a half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl, and obliged the crowd by taking a big chomp out of it, before asking for a napkin.

Ms. Deen then recovered nicely from the half-smoke by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to her new buddy Screech.

(Photo By Tom Bridge/

After more than 12 hours of shooting TV spots, helping feed the hungry, entertaining military families, and munching on a chili dog on the giant HD scoreboard, Ms. Deen's celebrity star was still shining brightly.

All Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/Nationals News Network. All Rights Reserved

For more information about Paula Deen's across America tour and "Helping Hungry Homes" initiative, see our previous post.


The Paula Deen events kicked-off the Washington Nationals Annual Food Drive which is this weekend during the Battle of the Beltways series with the Baltimore Orioles.

We would like to encourage ALL fans to bring non-perishable food items to Nationals Park on Saturday and Sunday, May 22-23.

Volunteers will be outside of the Center Field Gate on Saturday from 2:00 p.m. through the 4th inning and on Sunday from 11:00 a.m. through the 4th inning. Canned vegetables, soups, dried pasta, rice and paper products are suggested items.  Please donate what you can to help feed people in our area. As Paula Deen would probably say, "Bring food down to the Park ya'll!"