The New York Jets along with owner Woody Johnson on Tuesday continued a long-standing tradition of community service during the Thanksgiving season.
The Jets made a $2,500 donation to the Interfaith Food Pantry's annual Thanksgiving distribution program and volunteered at the event held at Saint Margaret's Church of Scotland in Morristown, N.J. Johnson as well as players David Bowens, Bubba Franks, Brad Kassell, Calvin Pace and Cody Spencer helped distribute some 400 turkeys and all the trimmings for a complete holiday meal to food pantry clients.
Clients got to take home bags of groceries in addition to a turkey. The bags were prepacked with all the fixings for a holiday feast. There was stuffing, yams, gravy, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie filling. They then got to choose from a selection of condiments, juices and fresh produce, covering all the bases for a proper Thanksgiving meal.
Johnson, who often stresses the importance of good works and being involved in one's community, said he was proud of his players for their service.
"These guys are very young people," he said, "and to start out their career learning how to be a part of the community and learning how to give back, at this age, earlier than I did, I think it's very impressive."
The players shared the owner's enthusiasm about helping any way they could and making it an impactful experience.
"It's good," Bowens said. "This kind of reminds me of being back home when I was a kid and going out and seeing the Detroit Lions. How I remembered it, just the experience, it just made my day."
After reflecting on those childhood memories, Bowens said he was eager to become involved in similar things once he became a professional athlete.
"I just wanted to experience or understand how it would be on the flip side of it, giving that experience to someone else. I can see it on their faces," he said. "And for me it's genuine — I really take a lot of gratitude in doing stuff like this"
"This right here, this means a lot to me," said Franks. "I can remember growing up, we weren't as fortunate as we are now, so I can remember being in that line. And I can remember how the feeling was where you never knew where your next meal was going to come from, so I'm happy to do this. This makes me feel good."
Franks, a Riverside, Calif., native who spent the day handing out turkeys and helping folks carry food to their cars, learned that events like these aren't just for the very poor.
"It's amazing the type of people you see when you come here, because you have hard-working families who are coming out here to get a turkey," he said. "It just goes to show the kind of economic crisis we're in now."
"Most people are quite surprised when you hear 'Morris County in Need,' " said Rosemary Gilmartin, executive director of the Interfaith Food Pantry. "You tend to think of it as one of the wealthiest counties in the country, but there are thousands and thousands of people who are low-wage earners or senior citizens. A lot of people have lost their jobs recently. So we have over 1,500 families that come to us for food every single month."
Gilmartin hopes the Jets' contribution this year will help raise volunteer and donor awareness to meet the need in Morris County, but also appreciated the Jets' visitation in a more practical way.
"It's been really fantastic because there's a lot of food and it was really, really heavy," she said.
They also worked alongside other local volunteers, many of whom donate their time more regularly.
"I was talking to the young lady over here and she said they do this every Thursday," said Bowens. "It just shows the kind of heart that these people have to help those who aren't as fortunate."
There seemed to be a theme with Thanksgiving and where it ranks with the players. Said Spencer:
"I enjoy Thanksgiving because we get to just look back and be thankful for everything that we have — our families, being fortunate enough to play in the NFL, waking up every day healthy. It's my favorite holiday. You have no dates, no presents. You just eat, watch football and hang out, enjoy time with your family."
"Oh, it's the best holiday," said Franks. "No. 1, you get to eat all day, and No. 2, you don't have to worry about buying gifts and presents. It's really the only day you're allowed to pig out and not have to worry about it. You'll pay for it later, but at the time you're going to enjoy it. Plus you get to spend that time with your family."
It's possible that these Jets took just a little bit more pleasure from the day's event knowing that they were a part of helping so many families eat heartily this Thanksgiving.