With Thanksgiving quickly approaching and the Hurricane Sandy recovery continuing around the tristate area, five members of the New York Jets wanted to lend a hand.
Linebackers Bart Scott and Garrett McIntyre, safety Yeremiah Bell, fullback Lex Hilliard and recent practice squad acquisition D.J. Bryant, all visited the Food Bank for New York City Warehouse in the Bronx on Tuesday.
The players' first task was to unload 100-plus turkeys and all the fixings from the Food Bank's 54-foot tractor trailer. When that was complete, they repacked food items into boxes to send out to families in need.
"It was different," Hilliard said of the experience. "It's kind of interesting going in and doing someone else's job for a couple of hours, and they're telling us how to do it and how to do it more efficient and stuff like that. It was fun. It was fun doing a different walk of life, and helping people at the same time."
According to David Goldstein, vice president of operations for the Food Bank, since Hurricane Sandy hit more than two weeks ago, the Food Bank has been receiving over 25 truckloads of food a day. Prior to Sandy, only 10 to 12 truckloads of food were being dispensed a day.
"It has made us work a lot longer hours," Goldstein said. "We've been working seven days a week as opposed to five days a week, so we've added a couple of days. But the need is out there and we're going to do what needs to be done to serve the community."
Margarette Purvis, president & CEO of the Food Bank, also at the Warehouse, said that 1.5 million New Yorkers rely on the Food Bank on a regular basis. But due to the impact of Sandy, those numbers have significantly increased.
"To see these guys, on their day off, being willing to jump right in there with my team, like they work at the Food Bank all the time, it's cool," Purvis said. "It means a lot and it means a lot to my guys who work very hard."
Volunteers with Special Skills
Goldstein said the Jets players are very special types of volunteers.
"Of course, with the size of them and their strength, they're going to be able to do a lot more than the normal person would be able to do," he said. "They're going to produce a lot more packages of food that will then go out. So that's huge, because this food, without people like this, would just sit here and not go anywhere."
Right before the players began repacking the food items, Purvis emphasized that what needs to be packed into each box first is love.
"By saying that, and by making sure people understand that, you have to have a certain intention behind this work," she said. "We're really making sure that it's good stuff that people can make meals out of, and that they can proudly have in their homes and feed to their children or feed to themselves. So that's why it has to start with love."
The repacking of food is always broken into categories and weight. Some of the categories include proteins, grains, household items, health and beauty aids, and cleaning supplies.
"People throw all kinds of stuff in there," Goldstein said, "and we take everything because people need everything."
While the repacking process appeared simple, it wasn't from McIntyre's perspective.
"It wasn't easy," the second-year linebacker said. "It's definitely time-consuming to go through every single [food] can. But just the fact that everyone's out there doing it is awesome."
The job of unloading turkeys typically takes Goldstein's workers around 10 minutes. For the Jets quintet, it took a little longer than that. The unloading began with McIntyre inside the truck, passing the turkeys and fixings down a line to Bell, Hilliard, Bryant and finally Scott, who loaded the items onto a pallet. Once enough items were in place, a Food Bank employee would string-wrap the items and drive them to the appropriate spot.
"I think that our guys could probably outdo them," Goldstein said with a laugh. "But they did a good job for not even knowing how to do it. There's a certain way to do it and our guys just do it a little bit differently because they have experience. But they did a good enough job. We'll take them back. They can come back whenever they want."
"Give Us a Couple of Practice Runs"
Purvis added: "They were kind of sweaty. I don't know. They were looking like they were struggling. My guys don't sweat that easily. They were struggling a little bit. But no, they had a good time. They did really well. They moved it really quickly."
When informed about the comical remarks from Goldstein and Purvis, Bell choose to respond politely.
"It's a task," he said. "Let's not be crazy about it. That's their job. They do it. So they probably got some pointers on how to be quicker than us. But give us a couple practice runs and we'll give them a run for their money."
The time spent in the Bronx made this particular Jets group smile. They made a positive difference and established a special memory along the way. What Bell said he will remember most from the day is the conversations he had with members of the Food Bank's staff.
"They were just being themselves," the safety said. "I think those are the best, when you can actually just be around people and they just act themselves. One guy was telling me that he thinks of athletes as guys who really don't want to pay attention or have the time to do things. But at the same time, like I told him, we're just regular people. We're just like you. We just have a different job."
Yes, a different job, but clearly not a different love. "I hope that by doing this they feel more connected to New York," Purvis said. "I hope they feel more connected to their fan base because the people that are hurting are the people that love them. And I think that this kind of move helps the fans know that the players love them back. I think that's important. I think it's important for a community. It's important for the franchise. It's important for our city. We're all in this together."