By Jennifer Kim, Marple Newtown Patch
BRYN MAWR–On their last Saturday before school ended for summer break, about 20 high school students from the Marple Newtown football team came together at promptly 8:30 a.m. to school, but this time they weren’t the ones receiving but the ones giving–casseroles to be exact.
But it was more than the casseroles that the students gave.
On June 11, the football team carpooled to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, where they proceeded to begin an all-day project cooking, cleaning and serving to the hungry and homeless of Philadelphia.
As part of the church’s Hunger Committee, Cathy Whiteside, a three-year member of the committee and a mother of former Marple Newtown football player Ian, who also has another son ready to play on the team next fall, helped organize the community service project for the team again this year. This was the second year the team has volunteered to feed the hungry.
“Hunger is a really big issue today, especially in Philadelphia, mostly West Philly,” shared Whiteside. “I thought a project would be great for the team. I tried to impress upon them that all these guys go out to eat all the time and people who have food don’t understand how others live. I told them that this might be the only meal that these people will eat all day.”
Whiteside said her main goal was to bring awareness to the team about how others lived. One story she shared involved a man she once met at one of the shelters, who ate Ketchup packets all day to stave his hunger.
It was stories like these that tugged at the students’ hearts and motivated them to spend all of Saturday morning in the church’s kitchen cooking 130 casserole dishes–beef roganoff, chicken and rice, and hot dog and baked beans were the three different casserole dishes.
According to Whiteside there were five stations going simultaneously, pumping out 10 casserole dishes at a time. Though it was a lot of teamwork and time–one player even came straight from the post-prom party BreakFest to participate in the volunteer project–Whiteside believes that this year was even better than last year.
“Last year was good but this year was even better,” said Whiteside. “They were very gentlemanly, they worked hard, they were really into it and I think the kids had a really great time.”
Football Coach Ray Gionta said this is just one of their many volunteer opportunities that they provide for the team. Earlier this year, the team has volunteered helping out Worrall Elementary School students working with laptops as well as the Broomall Rotary’s Jr. Olympics.
“The kids do it on a volunteer basis and that’s an opportunity that we make available for them to give back and do something nice,” shared Gionta.
Gionta said his personal goal for the team was for his players to be committed in the community through not only playing on the field but serving and giving back off the field.
“I see all the college football teams doing nice things in the community and I think, as we’re a school community, we also need to do things to help people in our community,” said Gionta.
Once all the food was prepared and made, the food was delivered to three separate Philadelphia shelters–Bethesda Sanctuary (a distribution center for My Brother’s House), a southwest Philadelphia shelter for the most frail of the adult male homeless; St.Barnabas Mission (also known as ECS–Episcopal Community Services), a West Philadelphia shelter for homeless women and children; and the UCHC (University City Hospitality Coalition) located on Penn’s campus at St. Mary’s Church, which serves men, women and children of the surrounding community.
According to Whiteside, all the food was paid for by the members of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church’s congregation. Bob Weber was the other project leader, who is a member of the congregation, and purchased all the food items from a restaurant depot for the students to cook.
Whiteside believes this year brought another project hunger success with the team and hopes to be involved with this service project and the team in the future.
“The recipients of the food are grateful–it could mean life or death for some of the most unfortunate,” said Whiteside. “I hope and encourage these players to understand that every person has a right to adequate food obtained with dignity.”