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Sean Payton hands out food in Venice

Head coach reaches out to those affected by Gulf oil spill

Two days before he was to open training camp, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton stood in the hot south Louisiana sun hoisting boxes of food and personal supplies into a steady stream of vehicles slowly pulling past him in Venice.

For a man who has heard more than his share of cheers since leading the Saints to the Super Bowl championship, Payton was hearing a different kind of appreciation on Tuesday.

"I thought he was a wonderful coach before, now I think he is a wonderful man," said Catherine Reels, 55. "I think the world of him helping like this."

Payton, through his Play it Forward Foundation, teamed up with Feed the Children to help 2,800 families affected by the BP oil spill.

Payton and fellow Saints coaches, as well as country music artist Sammy Kershaw, kept busy handing out 25-pound packages of food, 10-pound boxes of personal care items such as paper towels, toilet paper and personal grooming needs, bottled water and bags of fresh fruit.

"After two or three months, it's easy for people to like they've slipped through the cracks," Payton said. "The real thing we're about today is hope. Letting people know they are not forgotten."

The food distribution was the first of eight planned Tuesday and Wednesday.

Cars line up to receive 25-pound boxes of food and 10-pound boxes of personal items in Venice on Tuesday.

"As we always do, we had local organizations identify the people who needed the food," said Tony Sellars, of Feed the Children. "We have 400 families scheduled to pick up from this location."

The food was clearly appreciated.

Ronnie Grow, 42, who cleans offices for a living, was working five days a week before the spill. Now she works three. Two of the companies that used her services have gone out of business because of the spill, she said.

"They aren't coming back and no one new is opening up," Grow said. "Things are getting very tight. I'm already late with my truck payment, but what can you do?"

Payton said the most important thing is for people not to lose hope as the days drag out and the oil sloshes ashore.

"There are limits for all of us," Payton said. "Clearly these are resilient people, but today is really just to help them avoid reaching that limit."

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