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New Orleans Saints supported Second Harvest Food Bank at Winn-Dixie's SAINTsational Fall Festival

By Connor Tarter

Several New Orleans Saints players visited with fans at Winn-Dixie's SAINTsational Fall Festival benefitting Second Harvest Food Bank on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. New Orleans Saints photos. (Photos by Connor Tarter)

Winn-Dixie welcomed the community on Tuesday, Nov. 18 to mingle with  New Orleans Saints players, Saintsations and the team's mascots in support of Second Harvest Food Bank. Attendees enjoyed food, music, festivities and more, while helping feed families in need.

The event, which was held at the Winn-Dixie store at 5901 Airline Drive, was alive with community members of all ages who all showed up to support a great cause and a powerful community partnership. Rita Benson LeBlanc , Saints owner/vice chairman of the board, was excited to see the turnout, despite the unseasonably chilly weather.

"I'm so inspired that the kids are wearing their 'I donated' stickers," LeBlanc said. "They get to see some of the players that come for the autograph session. As many things as we can do where it's community and it's touch and feel with just regular people, you know, it's real easy to just go shop, support the cause."

LeBlanc also stated her appreciation for the Saints' partnership with Winn-Dixie and the impact it's had on the community.

"Winn-Dixie's been an amazing partner," LeBlanc said. "They came in after Katrina, they invested in building stores all over greater New Orleans, and they've expanded that footprint, and we're proud as always to be coinciding and contributing to Second Harvest Food Bank."

Winn-Dixie New Orleans Regional Vice President Karlena Niblett was thrilled by the community support.

"Community is a big part of the business. I think it's necessary for businesses to support it - support the customers that support those businesses," Niblett said. "Especially when it comes to Second Harvest and the Saints – when we talk about New Orleans – both of those are prevalent, huge pieces of our community that we need to take into consideration."

"Second Harvest needs food, 365 days out of the year. We have worked diligently to support it in our stores, this is just an event to recreate awareness in the community of this ongoing need. This, with the Saints, makes it even more impactful. Having Rita, having the players out here, really shows the community that we're acting as one - one united front to end hunger locally."

In addition to corporate leadership members, Saints players attended to sign autographs and meet fans.

Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was glad to be a part of the mutual support between the team and its fans.

"I think it's awesome, to come out and meet the fans, hang out with them a little bit, show them that we appreciate them as much as they appreciate us," Lofton said. "What's cool about this event, is that the fans donated money for the food bank, and it helps a lot of people out, and it's great to be a part of it."

Lofton also shared a personal story about his childhood memories from the holidays.

"For me, growing up, my grandma was working two jobs and she always hooked something up for us. She always made my favorite, which is pecan pie," he said. "It was such a great time to spend with family."

Long snapper Justin Drescher echoed his teammate's sentiments about the event's importance.

"It's a great time, with Thanksgiving rolling around next week," Drescher said. "It's always great to interact with the fans, especially after a tough loss. But you come back and you see the support that the community gives you and you want to give back as much as you can."

"It's special. It's something, I would say, very few cities and teams have. It's a special relationship and like I said, everyone was disappointed with Sunday's outcome, but we know that they have our backs at all times and support us 100 percent, and we want to support them 100 percent with whatever we can do, and this time of year is a big aspect of that."

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