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Jets, Food Bank Team Up for Turkey Dinners


Long before the Jets departed for Dallas on Wednesday, they sent four charismatic linebackers into Brooklyn for Thanksgiving preparations. David Bowens, Matt Chatham, Brad Kassell and Cody Spencer joined the Food Bank for New York City at "CHIPS" to unload turkeys and produce and serve a holiday meal to needy New Yorkers.

"We have been working with the Jets for almost four years," said Lisa Jakobsberg, the senior director of communications and marketing of the Food Bank. "The Jets have come out every year around Thanksgiving to help us unload turkeys and other fresh foods for the Thanksgiving holidays. We give away about 10,000 turkeys every year to our programs and we need some strong muscle to help us unload those trucks. The Jets help us do that."

Kassell, a 27-year-old Llano, Texas, native, brought the enthusiasm. As the players rapidly tossed turkeys to each other, he shouted, "We got a good momentum going," as onlookers watched the unloading from a Fourth Avenue sidewalk. Once inside, he dealt big portions of pasta and chicken before moving the plates over to his good buddy Spencer.

"It's fun. It's good to get in there and give some people food," Kassel said. "Nobody should be hungry — it's the United States of America. It's nice to get down here and help them."

During the Tuesday afternoon, the Jets were assisted by Xaverian High School students and four members of the Flight Crew. Meredith was particularly active, greeting guests, helping people reach their seats and even mixing in a little football talk.

"They seemed to be happy and seemed to be enjoying themselves," she said. "I feel good that I can help them and serve them food and talk to them a little bit about the Jets."

All the 'backers came well-equipped with football gloves for the food transfer. After the turkeys were brought inside, they followed with the carrying of apples, oranges, onions and potatoes. But they also mingled with those in need, exchanging greetings and handshakes.

"You get our cocoon in the NFL and you can get a little bit isolated," Chatham said. "There are people out there who are in need and not necessarily just needy — just people whose hand you need to shake and let them smile and say, 'Hey, how's it going?' "

But the need is great in this world-class city. Jakobsberg said 1.3 million people in New York turn to soup kitchens and food pantries for meals.

"They are mostly women with children, the working poor and seniors. These are people who have homes in most cases and they have jobs in many cases," she said. "They are having a difficult time making ends meet and it's a persistent problem in New York City. It's due to many factors — high housing costs, minimum wage not being enough to make ends meet. Thanksgiving is a time that people should be really together with their family and we want to make sure that is happening."

More than 500,000 people in Brooklyn alone turn to emergency food programs. The Food Bank houses 32 percent of their programs, 316 in all, in the borough.

"We serve meals six days a week," said Sister Mary Mahoney. "It's about 200 or 300 people per meal and one meal per day. We usually start at 11:30."

The problems of the visitors are not all the same.

"It's very hard. Some of them have jobs, some of them are immigrants, some of them are on drugs or alcohol and some of them are in programs," Mahoney said.

Jets community relations director Jesse Linder had the fortune of having four energetic and likable volunteers who jumped at the opportunity and made it an exciting afternoon.

"We communicate without talking," Kassell joked. "It's kind of like a Zen thing."

"Honestly, we got a workout out of that," added Chatham. "We intend fully to go back and make sure Eric counts that as a workout for us. It was a little bit of heavy lifting."

The Food Bank depends on volunteers every day.

"We rely on volunteers to help us repack food — we distribute about 70 million pounds of food a year," Jakobsberg said. "The food comes in bulk loads on trucks and on huge pallets, and we need people to help repack for the various programs that we distribute for."

On Thursday, most Jets fans will have the opportunity to get together with their families and watch football. But many will turn to a Food Bank program for their meal. Those turkeys the Jets distributed will be consumed on Thanksgiving.

"Everybody should have the opportunity to get food," Kassell said. "It just has to get fixed somewhere, but I don't know where that is. You just do your part and try to help out as much as you can."

Before they left the Brooklyn soup kitchen, the players posed for photos with the volunteers and then took their long-sleeve Jets T-shirts off their backs. They signed them and handed out the new souvenirs before returning to Hempstead.

"It puts things in perspective of your own live," Bowens said of the experience. "You always see it on TV that people can't eat or whatever, but to come here and lend a hand and have fun with these people, it's really gratifying."

Before lunch was served, someone outside muttered a comment about the Jets' record. Sister Mary countered, "We'll pray for them. Oh, they're going to win." And a J-E-T-S chant echoed throughout the building only an hour or so later.

"I think it's nice. It encourages the homeless that the Jets would come here," Sister Mary said. "Look at them — they're all smiling."

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