FB Marcel Reece tosses a full bag of pears into the box. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders visited the Alameda County Community Food Bank during Thanksgiving week to help sort through food to be distributed to families throughout Alameda County. Fullbacks Marcel Reece and Manase Tonga, RB Rock Cartwright and QB Terrelle Pryor spent the morning with students from John Muir Middle School and Castro Valley High School, giving back to the local community.
According to the Alameda County Community Food Bank website, their mission is to "alleviate hunger by providing nutritious food and nutrition education to people in need, educating the public, and promoting public policies that address hunger and its root causes."
The Food Bank provides enough food for 300,000 meals weekly. "We're serving one in six Alameda County residents," said Alameda County Community Food Bank Executive Director Suzan Bateson. "Probably surprising to most people is that our number one customer is a child. We serve 21,000 children each week. Our holiday requests are absolutely through the roof and we need everybody in the community helping us."
The Raiders and the students worked hard sorting produce that will be distributed to families throughout Alameda County. "We are sorting through some cabbage and some other fresh produce that we have today," said Charles Beyer, Volunteer Manager of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. "Right now, produce is more than half of our total product. We're putting over a million pounds of produce every month, which is a whole lot. The Raiders are joining us in that effort today, which is fantastic."
The Raiders arrival at the food bank was a surprise for the students. "I think the kids were really excited," said Beyer. "When I booked this group knowing that the Raiders were going to be here today, we didn't mention it right up front because we wanted it to be a surprise for them and I think it was a wonderful surprise."
Tonga and his teammates were excited to work with the students as they gave back to the local community. "It was great," said Tonga. "As soon as we walked in, we had our Raider gear on, a couple of the kids were star struck, a couple of the other kids were like who are these guys, but once they got to know us they were all smiles and just happy to have work side-by-side with us."
Volunteers are essential to the success of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. "We are involved with about 9,000 volunteers here every year now and that adds up to about 70,000 hours of volunteer service here annually, which is a tremendous amount of work that is being done by volunteers and needs to be done," said Beyer. "I love the fact that we're doing something that's really meaningful for the community and the spirit of community here is really tremendous."
Tonga was grateful to have the opportunity to make an impact on the students in addition to working with the food bank. "I talked to a few [students]," said Tonga. "A lot of them have great dreams. They told us the goals they want to achieve in life and so, not only are we able to pack food and help the community, but we are also able to give a little bit of advice to these kids and tell them about our struggles coming up and things we needed to do to get where we are. It's very fulfilling."
The Alameda County Community Food Bank is busy year round, but the holiday time is especially demanding. "It's awesome having the Raiders here helping out," said Michael Altfest, Alameda County Community Food Bank Communications Manager. "We love community support and the fact that the Raiders are just down the road - that means a lot to us. Being able to bring the visibility of a team like the first place Raiders makes a big difference to us. The need right now is just through the roof and we're lucky to have strong community support here in Alameda County, but the more visibility we can bring, the better. It really helps a lot."
Cartwright understands how important it is to give back. "I've been in a position where I didn't know where my next meal was coming from," said Cartwright. "I never had to reach out to a food bank, but I did experience hunger growing up so any time you can go through and give back, it's a positive thing."
The veteran running back also had a significant impact on the students with whom he spent time. "We were talking about their grades," said Cartwright. "They were asking me questions about football. They were asking me questions about my family. They just wanted to know a little about me and I wanted to know a little bit about them. I was just expressing to them how important school was and how you can do anything you want to do and how everything is such a mindset. Your mind controls a lot of what you do."
Castro Valley High School student, David Armstrong, listened carefully to what Cartwright, a player and person he admires, had to say. "We talked about school and basketball," said Armstrong. "Cartwright is one of my favorite players because I like the way he hustles out on the field and how he gives 100-percent all the time. It feels pretty good [talking to Cartwright]. It shows that he cares about other people and we can see what he feels like off the field and not just on the field."
Spending time giving back to the community and interacting with the students is important to Cartwright. "It's really important to let people know we are regular human beings and football is just our job, it's what we do, but we really do care what's going on in the community," said Cartwright.
The students were excited and in awe of the Raiders players, but the players were just as impressed with the work of the kids. It's always great to give back to any community," said Tonga. "Being that I'm from the Bay Area, it's a great thing, especially coming out and meeting these kids, local kids from around here, and seeing their contribution to the community. It makes me really sit back and think how lucky we are to have people that are willing to help out."
"It means a lot to help out," said Reece. "I mean, to me, the most special thing about this whole experience is just having the kids out here and having them start so early helping out the community and let them know it's fun to do it and it's not something that is a bad thing and it's not a punishment. It's actually rewarding to come out and help people who need help."
"I love it," said Bateson about the Raiders visit. "They're our neighbors. They're right across the freeway from us. I think it's wonderful. When you think about us serving so many children in the community, children look up to these players and if they're well-nourished, they'll succeed in life. Who knows, maybe they're our future Raiders."