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Mazar helps Los Angeles homeless get back on their feet

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Actress Debi Mazar said that CNN Heroes inspired her to do more for others.
  • Actress Debi Mazar has raised money for The Midnight Mission, a Los Angeles food bank
  • Mazar said the organization does more than feed people; it also gives them a fresh start
  • Mazar said she came from humble beginnings, too: "I grew up on food stamps"

Editor's Note: Voting is under way for the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs Thanksgiving night, November 25, at 8 p.m. ET. See the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2010 and cast your vote.

(CNN) -- Actress Debi Mazar is passionate about food, and she recently used her cooking skills to raise money for The Midnight Mission, a Los Angeles-based organization that helps the homeless.

Mazar is also an enthusiastic supporter of CNN Heroes, and she recently sat down with CNN Entertainment senior producer Denise Quan to talk about the campaign and her philanthropy. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Denise Quan: Why did you decide to get involved with the feeding the homeless?

Debi Mazar: I grew up on food stamps. I come from a very humble background. And I've had many friends that have been destitute -- you know, running into trouble -- and places like The Midnight Mission have given them hope and have fed them and gotten them back on the right path. It can happen to anybody, and with the economy crashing and what's going on in the world today, I just thought it was time to try to find a place to go to help people.

They're the oldest food bank in Los Angeles ... and I like to cook, I like to serve people. So we cooked up a bunch of food, and they let us use their truck, helped us serve it, and we raised a lot of money.

Quan: What's so special about The Midnight Mission?

Mazar: Not only are they feeding people, but they are giving them housing, they are giving them beds, a shower, fresh sheets, fresh clothing. They are finding them jobs. There is a recovery program for addiction, a program to learn to get back on your feet and to adjust within the community again. It's incredible what they do and how many people walk through their doors, rich and poor, no questions asked. They just open these doors and they give these people a fresh start.

Quan: What is a hero to you?

Mazar: A hero is somebody who is selfless, who is generous in spirit, who just tries to give back as much as possible and help people. A hero to me is someone who saves people and who really deeply cares.

Quan: You attended "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" last year. What was that like?

Mazar: Being at the CNN Heroes event last year was almost life-changing. I saw the prior year from my living room, and when I got invited I was so excited. Each person that went up and each little film that was played brought me and my husband to tears because of the generosity of their soul and spirit. These people came from nothing, had nothing, and yet did the unimaginable. They weren't Hollywood people. They weren't rich people. They were just people that wanted to help other people. It just really made me think, "Wow. I want to help, too."

Watching those people made me feel like I wasn't doing enough. They were so inspirational. So now I'm on the bandwagon, and I'm just trying to help as well because it makes you feel really great and we need it. We need a sense of community again.

Quan: Did any of those CNN Heroes particularly inspire you?

Mazar: There was one young Filipino man [CNN Hero of the Year Efren Penaflorida] who would go into the slums and help bring education to all these children that had nothing and teach them how to read and write. It was just beautiful what he did. There was Jorge Munoz from Queens, [New York], who just had like a regular job, had no money, but he and his family would cook in their little kitchen that was, you know, New York-style -- I'm talking closet-size -- and half of their house was stocked with restaurant supplies. And every night he would cook and bring out food and serve the homeless on the streets of New York City. This guy was just selfless. I just thought, "How wonderful."

Quan: Why do you think we need to honor everyday heroes?

Mazar: There's so much importance in honoring your everyday hero. It doesn't take money. It doesn't take connections. What matters is that people get involved. Whether your passion is gun control or food or whatever it may be, everybody needs to stop being so self-absorbed.