Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie class may still be adjusting to a busy NFL schedule, but that demanding agenda does not stop the young Bucs from giving back to the community on their only day off from football.
On Tuesday, Buccaneers cheerleaders and staff members, as well as team mascot Captain Fear, accompanied 12 members of the team's Rookie Club to the Feeding America Tampa Bay, where they helped the food bank provide 100,000 meals to hungry seniors throughout Central Florida.
The Buccaneer rookies who took part in the event included safety Ahmad Black, running back Allen Bradford, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Mason Foster, tight end Collin Franklin, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, safety Devin Holland, running back Mossis Madu, tight end Zack Pianalto, linebacker Derrell Smith, tight end Luke Stocker and long snapper Christian Yount. They joined more than 100 UnitedHealthCare employees in the task of sorting and packing food boxes for distribution.
Foster found the work very gratifying, understanding the vital necessity of Feeding America's service.
"I'm over here making sure this bread is good, making sure all these desserts are good and making sure people get the right type of food in their body," he said. "It feels great to get out here and do what we can to help feed people."
The dozen Buc rookies helped sort through food donations received by Feeding America Tampa Bay from growers, manufacturers, supermarkets and organized community food drives. After sorting, players stocked the shelves with packaged food donations in preparation for distribution to the hungry through a network of 600 hunger relief organizations across West Central Florida.
"We couldn't function here without our volunteers," said Pat Rogers, executive director of Feeding America Tampa Bay. "I can't say how much we appreciate the community coming out to support us."
Feeding America Tampa Bay, operated primarily from the efforts of volunteer workers, collects food from local distributors and gives it right back to the hungry within the community. The Tampa-based food bank serves a poverty population of close to 600,000, and provided 19 million pounds of food to its 10-county service area last year.
"A lot of people are going hungry," said Stocker. "We want to do everything we can to help this organization get food out to them so they can have some food in their stomachs."
About nine million older adults nationwide face the threat of hunger, and one in five Florida residents reported not having enough money to buy food in the last year. Florida ranked 24th among all states for risk of senior hunger, with more than five percent of Florida's seniors at risk, according to AARP.
"Nobody should be hungry in America," Foster said. "So, we're out here trying to feed everybody."
They may be rookies to the league, but the newest additions to the Buccaneers are already taking personal responsibility for the betterment of their community.
"Everybody isn't fortunate enough to have everything, so that's our job to get out here and help them out," said Black.
Added Stocker: "We're in the community spotlight, we have a platform, and we have an opportunity to really make a statement as a team. "We do certain things for the community and let other people know that we want to help. We want to help this community do well. That's the opportunity we had today."
This activity was part of the Buccaneers Rookie Club program, UnitedHealthcare's "Do Good. Live Well." employee volunteer initiative, and AARP Foundation's broader "Drive to End Hunger" program. The Rookie Club is comprised of all of the team's rookie players and it was developed to help the young players learn more about their new community while serving worthwhile charitable organizations in Tampa Bay.
"We're just out here having fun and enjoying it, and that makes it even better," Clayborn said. "It makes it even better when you've got guys that want to do it, enjoy doing it and are having fun with it. So, I can't wait for the next opportunity."