As many of us look forward to Thanksgiving, the unfortunate reality is that a lot of people — in Jets Nation, New York City, the country and the world — are hurting right now.
“I think we’re all struggling with this recession, if not directly, then indirectly," said Jets linebacker Bart Scott. "Maybe it’s a family member who lost a job or something like that. I think the only way for us to get out of this situation is to help each other and boost each other up and really be supportive.”
On Tuesday, Scott unloaded turkeys and fixings at CHIPS Park Slope Christian Help before serving a pre-Thanksgiving dinner meal to some needy folks.
“With Bart Scott coming in here to volunteer, hopefully it will inspire people to give back not just at Thanksgiving but year-round,” said Kim Keller, director of media services for the New York Food Bank, which oversees 1,000 food assistance programs citywide. “People are hungry year-round even though we think about it the most at Thanksgiving.”
The numbers are staggering. One New Yorker in five relies on the Food Bank to eat. Since 2003, there has been a 60 percent increase in the number of people reporting difficulty affording food, from 2 million to 3.3 million. And among Brooklyn residents, 51 percent had difficulty affording food in 2008, up from 24 percent in 2003 (more than double) and from 39 percent in 2007 (a 31 percent increase). Of those turning to soup kitchens and food pantries, 509,000 reside in Brooklyn.
“It’s always a hectic time of year," Keller said. "This is when people think the most about volunteering and donating and we’ve seen an increase at our food pantries and soup kitchens — a 93 percent increase in terms of people who are coming as first-time visitors. That number only increases during Thanksgiving."
Beyond every number, there is a face and there is a story. That fact is not lost on Scott, a wealthy man from humble beginnings who could have elected to just write a check to help the Food Bank’s initiatives of direct services, food sourcing and distribution, nutrition and health education, financial empowerment, disaster relief and policy research.
But anyone who’s familiar with Scott knows that he’s a person who thrives on contact. He embraces the chance to help others in need equally as much as he anticipates violent collisions on the field.
“I’m trying to be a leader, and trying to be a role model is all about leading by example. Give time. It’s one thing to give money and that’s great if that’s all you can do, but it’s another to be in touch, to be reachable and to be a person,” he said.
“If you’re somebody people can talk to and actually touch, I think that’s more effective to being able to help people in help services. Put a face behind it and not just a dollar amount. I think it’s important for me to be down there working and not try to be some prima donna.”
So there he was on this Tuesday, on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, unloading turkeys, potatoes, plantains and onions off a truck. Later, back inside the CHIPS kitchen, Scott was taking apples from the boxes and placing them in crates. And finally, he put on a Food Bank apron, served food and chatted with persons who stopped by for a meal.
“I think that’s the true definition of Thanksgiving — sacrifice, helping your neighbor and lending a helping hand to people who are less fortunate,” he said.
Scott, 29, who established his own A Son Never Forgets Foundation in 2006 to attack issues involving hunger, public safety, youth and the disabled, makes weekly grants to different local charities throughout the season, and the former Raven continues to be active down in Baltimore.
“I try to be an octopus and try to stretch out,” he said. “I don’t try to limit myself to just one area. I try to stretch out and help out as much as I can because I feel like it’s an obligation.”
But even if Scott had eight arms, that’s not enough. Tackling something like hunger takes a complete team effort and we are reminded of that more than ever on this holiday.
“I would say that everyone is in a position to help in some way," Keller said, "whether it’s volunteering at a site, volunteering at the Food Bank or making a monetary contribution."
Tags: Bart Scott, thanksgiving
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