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Canned goods were plentiful at Columbian Gardens on Tuesday.

Oakland Raiders, students sort food at Alameda County food banks

on November 21, 2012

When Brad Lubeck, 11, and his mother Stacey showed up at the Alameda County Community Food Bank for an afternoon of volunteering with his Boy Scout troop, he didn’t expect much in the way of thrills. Food bank staff showed Brad and the others what to do with the broccoli and carrots they’d be unloading, and said it would be the Scouts’ job to teach the process to another group of volunteers arriving shortly.

Then the surprise was sprung. Six giants in black and silver strolled up to the boys and asked for instructions. The Oakland Raiders had arrived.

Brad, who is something of a football fan, would be beaming for the rest of the day as he packed up carrots. “We have a cat named Raider,” said his mother. “He got to name it.”

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, long snapper Jon Condo, wide receiver Derek Hagan, linebacker Aaron Curry, defensive end Matt Shaugnessy and running back Taiwan Jones sorted donated food alongside local high school students, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts at the Food Bank’s warehouse across the highway from the Coliseum.

“I wear the black and silver on TV every Sunday,” said Condo. “Kids look up to us. Adults look up to us. This shows people watching that we’re in this together for the cause of our community.” Condo said that every Tuesday, which is the only day off from workouts for the Raiders, members of the team are volunteering somewhere in the city. Condo, originally from Pennsylvania, said the community spirit he’s seen in Oakland has impressed him. “They’re very dedicated people,” he said. “It’s a close-knit community committed to helping each other.”

The Oakland Raiders are also hosting a virtual food drive over the holiday season in partnership with the Food Bank that collects money for food and supplies.

The cavernous warehouse is kept cold inside. Volunteering kids wore warm beanies and coats on Tuesday, while the Raiders wore their jerseys without pads or helmets. Conversation was lively, as kids clustered around one or two towering players at each of the cardboard boxes holding donated vegetables.

Big hands and small hands worked quickly through the veggies, while conversation covered primarily school and football. “They’re tough,” said Condo, who was paired with Brad’s Scout troop. “They’re hard little workers—packing carrots just as fast as I was.”

Food Bank communications manager Mike Altfest said the facility needs all the help it can get from volunteers in the weeks leading up to the holiday season. “The operation is ticking this time of year the way we’d want it to be ticking all year,” said Altfest. The Food Bank provides food for 49,000 people (enough food for roughly 300,000 meals) each week through its 275 partner food pantries, soup kitchens and other facilities.

But the amount of donations peaks at this time of year, said Altfest, and so does the Food Bank’s need for volunteers. People tend to sign up for shifts during the holiday season, he said, but interest starts flagging by January. He encourages anyone who wants to volunteer to sign up for shifts after the holidays by using the Food Bank’s volunteer webpage.

“The Raiders have been helping us out a lot this year,” said Altfest. “It’s a great morale booster, and it helps bring awareness to hunger in Oakland.”

Not far from the Food Bank’s warehouse, at the Columbian Gardens Food Pantry, pro-bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour was handing out frozen chickens, canned corn and collard greens, and boxed stuffing mix with the help of his family. Altfest said Seymour had specifically asked to pass out food, and that the appearance was “just something Richard wanted to do.” Seymour was helped by his wife Tanya, his kids Richard, Kayla, Kennedy and London, and other friends and family.

“For me, to be in the position I’m in, it’s a no-brainer,” Seymour said. He spent his afternoon passing out boxes of ingredients and wishing a soft-spoken “Happy Thanksgiving” to more than a hundred people. “I could easily have given money,” he said, “but giving your time, looking people in the eye, face to face, is what it’s all about. I wanted to show my commitment to the city of Oakland.”

Many families filled the line outside the food pantry. Parents smiled at the Seymour family and expressed their thanks. But dozens of small children, dwarfed by Seymour’s impressive 6’6” stature, gaped at the monolithic volunteer, at a loss for anything to say.

“It helps when there’s someone here they know and can recognize,” said longtime Columbian Gardens volunteer Bill Walker. Walker said he was shocked when he heard one of the Raiders would be helping out at the little food pantry. “I like to see them giving back to the community,” he said. “It makes me happy.”

Watching the line advance, Altfest said he was thrilled Seymour wanted a role interacting with the Food Bank’s clients directly. “It’s a nice little heartwarming boost to their holidays,” he said.

At about 2pm, the volunteer shifts were drawing to a close, and the Raiders were wrapping up their service. At the Food Bank warehouse, this meant it was time for photos. Fans among the volunteers gathered excitedly around the Raiders, taking pictures with every available phone. Oakland High School sophomore Luis Almendarez, who is “almost 16,” was repeatedly shoved sheepishly into photos by his classmates, who know what a big Raiders fan he is.

He had only come to get a couple volunteering hours. “I wanted to help people,” he said. “Plus it looks good on a college résumé.” When the players first came in the warehouse, Almendarez said he was blindsided. Watching the Raiders depart, he struggled with his lingering disbelief. “I had no idea. I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t think it was real.”


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