His plate piled full of turkey and trimmings, a bearded man in a faded blue sweatshirt turned from the chow line to find a seat in the Helping Up Mission. Not so fast, Bart Scott said.
"I don't see nothin' green there. Momma said to eat your vegetables, bro," said Scott, squeezing a steaming mound of collard greens onto the man's plate.
For two hours Monday night, as he has done for most of the past 10 years, Scott, the former Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker, dished out Thanksgiving victuals to more than 400 men fighting addiction and homelessness. At times, the line snaked out the mission's cafeteria toward East Baltimore Street. But Scott and a handful of Ravens and ex-Ravens, all wearing white aprons and armed with serving spoons, kept feeding the hungry. Turkey and stuffing. Sweet and mashed potatoes. Macaroni and cheese and collard greens.
Scott bankrolls the affair, which began in 2006 during his breakout year in Baltimore. He's one of several former Ravens — wide receiver Torrey Smith, linebacker Jameel McClain and safety Ed Reed among them — who return during the holidays to give back to the community that embraced them as athletes.
"There's something about this city, and this team, that pulls you in," said Scott, 35, now a football analyst for CBS Sports. "It's important for me to not just sponsor this dinner but to really serve these people who feel disenfranchised. Here, I feel like God's servant. It all goes back to Jesus washing the feet of the slaves. It's not up to me to judge, or to ask my fellow brothers why they're here, but to say 'How can I help you?'"
A chatterbox as a player, Scott yapped all through dinner.
"More collards, please," said a man with a cane.
"All riiiight," Scott said. "Don't want to get bloated. Get some of this roughage to push [the meal] out."
His colleagues, who included Ravens guard Marshal Yanda and long snapper Morgan Cox, weren't immune to his quips. When the macaroni began sticking to his serving spoon, Cox got an earful from Scott.
"C'mon rookie, it's all in the wrists," he said. "You're a center, you should know that."
That Scott takes time for good-natured banter means a lot, said Kris Sharrar, Helping Up Mission's director of development.
"There is a genuine friendship between Bart and the guys here," Sharrar said. "He's not just an athlete telling us that we're valued, he's another person looking us eye-to-eye. Bart doesn't wear his jersey when he comes; he wants his legacy to be bigger than himself."
A recent incident suggests as much.
"I was shopping with my kids at a store near my home in Morristown, N.J., when I noticed a guy looking at me," Scott said. "When we went outside, he followed. I went into protection mode, put the kids in the car and said, 'Can I help you?'
"He said, 'On behalf of my wife and son, I want to thank you for saving my life.' He was a graduate of the Helping Up Mission who'd been strung out on heroin before getting clean, and now had his own business.
"That's why I'm here. You never know whose life you might change."
For Smith, it's home
Torrey Smith had signed with the San Francisco 49ers about a month earlier, but he was in Baltimore taking care of some business when the city was on the verge of breaking out in violence.
As he headed to the airport to catch a flight back to the West Coast, Smith saw large groups of people assembling to protest the death of 25-year-old Baltimore man Freddie Gray while he was in police custody.
"I saw the crowd kind of moving into the city before it got out of control," Smith said. "Just to see how many young kids were involved, I think it's our responsibility as men — especially myself as an African American male — to help guide the kids. Obviously, there are systematic things that need to change, but they need to know that there are people out there that care about them and want to help them do better."
Smith played for the Ravens for four seasons after a standout career at Maryland. A key member of the Super Bowl XLVII champions and one of the most productive receivers in franchise history, he wanted to be a Raven for his entire career. The business of the NFL intervened.
Smith, however, said that this family will live in the Baltimore area long after his playing career is over, and remain committed to helping the community. During the 49ers' bye week this month, Smith and his foundation, which supports at-risk youth, opened a reading room at Friendship Academy in West Baltimore. It's the third one that Smith has established in area schools.
"For me, it's home now," Smith said of Baltimore. "We're invested in the city."
Smith is planning to move his fundraising celebrity basketball game, which was held last year in College Park, to Baltimore. He said that his time away from the city has helped him narrow his foundation's focus.
"We're really going to dig in deep with mentoring," Smith said. "We're going to help all ages, but we really want to focus on high school kids. They're next up. We want to do our best to help them get past today and see a better future for themselves. That's what we're going to be committed to long term."
McClain: 'I connect with Baltimore'
From the day he arrived in Baltimore in 2008 as a rookie free agent trying to earn a spot on one of the league's most vaunted defenses, Jameel McClain felt a kinship with the city. It reminded him of Philadelphia, where he grew up.
He found the people and the fans to be intensely loyal. He watched how the community reacted to some of his teammates, like Reed, and he couldn't wait to have that same relationship.
"There are so many people that could use a voice, that could use a light in some of the darkness that they are going through," McClain said. "I connect with Baltimore so much."
Growing up in Philadelphia, McClain and his family were homeless at times and found shelter at a local Salvation Army. To give thanks, McClain established the annual "53 families" event where he and his foundation provide a hot Thanksgiving meal for families, and then send each family home with a turkey, groceries and other supplies.
McClain, an inside linebacker who played parts of six seasons with the Ravens, wore No. 53 throughout his NFL career. The event, however, has grown to help far more than 53 families.
On Nov. 17, McClain, joined by several current Ravens, served turkey dinner to nearly 80 families, and over 400 people at the sixth such event at The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in Middle River.
"I want to get to the point where we have 5,000 people," McClain said. "I don't want this event to have any cap, any limit. The kids come back, the kids remember. They come back with their report cards. They know not just me, but the volunteers, and I have such great support."
McClain, who also gave out 500 turkeys the following day in Harlem, N.Y., has been out of the NFL since he was cut by the Giants in September, but still has visions of playing again. Regardless of whether he does, McClain and his fiancée, Keisha Sullivan, a Baltimore native, will make Baltimore their long-term home.
"To have this response from the community, to be seen as one of their own, that's important," McClain said. "I just try to be myself and people respond to that fortunately."