FREDERICK — As a former case manager and soup kitchen cook, Urbana assistant coach John Jefferson knows the value of giving back to the community.
So when the football and girls varsity basketball coach got the chance to bring high school athletes to a Thanksgiving food distribution in Frederick on Tuesday, Jefferson didn’t hesitate.
Students bundled up in Urbana’s navy blue and white colors hoisted hundreds of reusable grocery bags filled with turkeys and ingredients for Thanksgiving side dishes into the hands of those in need outside the Frederick Keys stadium that morning. Watching the distribution unfold with a grin on his face, Jefferson said he was proud of the athletes.
“Playing is a big part of their lives, but outside of the field or the court, it’s really important to give back,” he said.
Alanna Tate, a junior point guard, said they arrived early to assist the city of Frederick’s Department of Housing and Human Services with the distribution. She filled bags with stuffing, bread, sweet potatoes and more in preparation of the 11 a.m. start.
“I like to give back to the community,” Tate said. “Just making people’s days by, you know, helping out, giving people food, just seeing them be overjoyed. And it makes me a little emotional. ... Not a lot of people can provide food during Thanksgiving, so just being able to give back is really special.”
Junior middle linebacker Chayan Loun was happy to see his team supporting the community.
“It just makes me feel really great inside,” Loun said, “Seeing what we can do to make a difference.”
Anyone was welcome to the food as long as they showed identification listing them as a local resident.
Frederick residents Teko Black and Kwan Ewing were grateful for the donations. Black called it a blessing.
“They help us make ends meet,” Black said. “We need more people out here like this.”
“It’s hard out here,” Ewing added.
Students handed off groceries and carried bags to cars in the frigid air. By noon, they’d gone through about half of their supply, starting with 1,000 turkeys from Wegmans.
Ramenta Cottrell, director of the department of housing and human services, said food insecurities have grown with the pandemic, though the turkey distribution started long before COVID-19. Assistant director Michele Ott estimated the Thanksgiving distribution has been going on for more than 25 years.
But the day was about more than feeding people for one holiday.
Cottrell said she also had a goal to connect food recipients with services that can help them in the long term.
“We do care,” Cottrell said. “We are here to provide services for them.”
In another section of the parking lot, Frederick Health offered flu and COVID-19 vaccinations. The Love for Lochlin Foundation and Frederick Community Action Agency set up tables offering resources.
Volunteers stuffed bags with COVID-19 vaccination flyers and applications for energy assistance. Independent Hose Company served hot chocolate and coffee. Members of the Frederick Police Department’s auxiliary unit watched over the operation.
Among the volunteers was Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor. He broke down boxes, picked up trash and moved grocery bags.
“I think we all wish we didn’t need to do it,” O’Connor said, but “we’re ready to assist.”