It was a chilly Tuesday morning in late November when New York Jets wide receiver Tim Dwight found himself in a relatively unusual situation. The Iowa native was crammed down a steep stairwell, ten steps beneath a busy side street in Brooklyn. The professional football veteran of nine seasons has always been able to adapt to new environments and make the most of any every opportunity, and today was no different.
Glazed with an unrelenting smile, Dwight was hauling in and handing off turkeys and fresh produce from four other devoted Jets teammates with one goal in mind: to help stop hunger.
"I would do this every day. If Eric (Mangini) didn't have us in meetings for 50 hours a week, I would be out doing this," said Dwight with a smile. "I think things like this are fantastic, contacting people is great. Thanksgiving is a time to sit back and be thankful for what you have. To see the people here – I wouldn't say it was eye-opening, but it makes me feel good about what I'm doing and what I've done."
In addition to delivering a tractor trailer load of fresh turkey, potatoes, apples and carrots to the Neighbors Together Soup Kitchen in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, members of the Jets community were on hand serving those in need of a warm meal on a brisk autumn day.
Joining Dwight in this city-wide game plan to "tackle" hunger were linebackers Brad Kassell, Cody Spencer and Matt Chatham. Fullback James Hodgins not only devoted his time, his wife Stephanie and two sons Isaiah and Isaac were on hand as well, passing out warm meals and smiles to all those in attendance.
"This is the good way to do it," said Chatham, a special teams co-captain who handed out very generous portions of turkey and gravy. "You look forward to this time of year and you love to see the smiles on their faces. It is a long, hard year for us and it's even a harder year for a lot of these people, so it's good.
"It's tough just to keep serving and not eat," joked Chatham. "We have to do our best to keep our hands out of the food."
This gathering is just one of the many events in the Food Bank's borough-wide campaign called "Thanksgiving for Five." The mission is designed to distribute more than 10,500 turkeys to community food programs including food pantries and soup kitchens at a time where many New York families are struggling to put food on the table.
This holiday season, more than two million people in New York City alone are at risk of going hungry and at least half of those people turn to emergency food programs such as Neighbors Together.
"Hunger doesn't discriminate, and you never know when it is going to strike," said Carlos Rodriguez, Vice President of Agency Relations and Programs of Food Bank. "Bringing this type of public with the Jets participating actually brings a lot of public awareness to an issue that usually goes unheard. It's very important for the food bank because it's these three months when we do most of our fund raising."
A recent report by the federal government indicated that hunger is on the rise in the Big Apple, even with the Food Bank distributing over 250,000 meals a day throughout 1,200 programs in the five boroughs. With that in mind, these five members of the Green and White were more than happy to help out such an important yet often overlooked cause.
"It's really excellent; I think that their energy helps make a festive atmosphere," said Ed Fowler, Executive Director of Neighbors Together. "We're here every day, Monday through Saturday, 12 months a year, so this makes it really special, and people are really excited to have them here. It's great to draw attention to the fact that there are so many programs like this out there."
With the room packed of close to 350 patrons, Dwight's sparkling character was able to maintain a consistent flow, as he was the first Jets player to greet the thankful guests.
"It was really neat. That was the first point of contact – in the food line," Dwight said. "It was just nice to know that these people were going to get a nice, hot meal. You could tell how much they appreciated it. They just sat down and enjoyed the time."
"Even when they are struggling, they sit there and have a good time and talk a little," Kassell added. "They are really great people."
When the line died down and the crowd dispersed, each player signed autographs, posed for photos and chatted with the exuberant visitors. While these five players knew they had accomplished an important task, the members of Food Bank, and the dedicated staff of Neighbors Together engage in such rewarding happiness nearly 365 days a year.
"We don't turn folks away. Every member agency, every single one of the 1,200 programs, don't turn people away," Rodriguez said. "If you're hungry, there's food available for you, and if not at that particular location, than we'll find one that does."