Thanksgiving is a time for thanking God for the many blessings in one’s life. Rather than simply thanking God verbally, student-athletes from St. John’s University, Jamaica, showed their gratitude by volunteering Nov. 21 at St. John’s Bread & Life in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Each year, the Red Storm men’s and women’s basketball teams serve hot meals at the center the day before Thanksgiving. However, this year both teams had games, so student-athletes from other sports got the opportunity to attend.
“The day was absolutely amazing,” said Rikka Lovely, a senior track and field athlete. “I think it went by a little too fast, but it was a lot of fun.”
“It’s great to be able to show our gratefulness and thankfulness to our community,” said Gabriela Pettova, a senior setter/lebaro on the volleyball team. “St. John’s is always trying to help the poor, and that’s what makes it such a great place.”
St. John’s University was originally located at St. John the Baptist parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant, which was also the original location of the St. John’s Bread & Life food pantry. The program began 30 years ago, and Bread & Life is now one of the largest pantries in the city.
Today, one in five New Yorkers uses an emergency food bank. Bread & Life independently raises $3 million annually to provide food for those in need.
The pantry has increased its workload to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy by preparing 5,000 meals per day. The Thanksgiving event served 2,200 people.
“It reminds people that this isn’t just one day a year,” said Anthony Butler, executive director of St. John’s Bread & Life. “Folks need to know that there are hungry people the other 364 days a year.”
“St. John’s is all about service,” said Mariana Barrios, a senior golfer from Colombia. “They really work hard to put that idea in your head.”
The day began with Butler filling up a van of canned food after an 8:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the student-athletes and athletic administrators served the food and greeted the guests.
“For us that have so much, it’s a great way to go back to our roots and help those that are less fortunate,” said Kathy Meehan, St. John’s associate vice president for athletics. “They’re all God’s children, so we need to do what we can to make their lives a little better.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to give back in some small way,” said Joanne Persico, head volleyball coach. “We get more than we give with this type of work.”
The student-athletes enjoyed serving the guests and interacting with the other sports teams.
“It shows that not only are we awesome in our sports and good in the classroom, but we also take time out to serve our community,” said Stephanie Barnes, a senior track and field athlete.
The Thanksgiving event at Bread & Life is just one of the many ways St. John’s student-athletes serve the community that supports its teams.
“Our motto here is ‘Win, Graduate and Serve,’ which we try to do,” said Jim Hurt, head track and cross-country coach. “This is the ‘serving’ part of it, and it’s an overall part of the student-athlete experience.”