LOUISVILLE, Ky. and HOUSTON — Papa John's International and its Houston franchisees have launched a relief effort to ease the suffering of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

According to a news release, a team of Papa John's volunteers will make 10,000 individual pizzas to help feed refugees from New Orleans transported to temporary shelter in Houston's Astrodome.

"Everybody deserves a hot meal," said Keith Sullins, president of Houston Pizza Venture, Papa John's largest franchisee in the Houston market. "We are blessed to be able to help and will be cranking our ovens as long as it takes to help meet these displaced folks' basic needs."

Sullins, who oversees 49 Papa John's units with 1,200 employees in the Houston market, is also set to hire 150 displaced victims of Katrina to work for the chain delivering pizza. "We need drivers, and these folks need jobs," Sullins said. "I hired three individuals today forced to relocate from Louisiana, and we know there are many more folks in the same situation."

Papa John's International has established a disaster relief fund through which its franchisees and employees can donate to recovery efforts in Gulf Coast states. The company will match up to $50,000 in contributions and make the total donation to the American Red Cross.

Papa John's is dispatching two 18-wheelers filled with bottled water, along with two mobile pizza kitchens for pizza distribution in affected areas.

"Our hearts go out to the many families impacted by this horrendous disaster," said Chris Sternberg, Papa John's senior vice president, corporate communications. "We hope that by providing food to the hungry and funds to support long-term relief, we will begin to make a difference."

Approximately 50 Papa John's franchise units in the Gulf Coast region were impacted by Hurricane Katrina; 27 of those remain closed. The company is working closely with the franchisees impacted to provide support, including sending generators to help reopen a portion of the affected restaurants.

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