Men’s Basketball Makes Big Assist

The St. John’s men’s basketball team and coaching staff filed onto a bus, with the same enthusiasm they always have when hitting the road. However, this trip was not to travel to a game against a Big East opponent, but for the Johnnies to fulfill a mission – a tradition that has echoed through the hearts of SJU coaching staff and basketball players for the last 10 years. The opponent this time was hunger. The offensive weapon was a helping hand and the defensive strength was love.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, the team and coaching staff visited St. John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen, located in the original spot that served as St. John’s University’s home from 1870 until the late 1950’s. Located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area, the Soup Kitchen serves approximately 1,000 poor and homeless from the surrounding community daily. They served approximately 650 Thanksgiving dinners for lunch this Thanksgiving Eve. St. John’s Bread and Life Executive Director Tony Butler, said that there were about 17,000 volunteer hours last year.

The SJU volunteers included athletic director Chris Monasch, Father James Maher, coach Norm Roberts and family, assistant coaches Fred Quartlebaum and Glenn Braica, director of men’s basketball operations Chris Casey, head team manager Will Lanier, graduate assistant C.J. Council and of course, the team. They worked alongside Bruce Beck, reporter at NBC 4, and his family, as well as Brooklyn Assemblyman of the 50th District, Joseph Lentol.

When the team, coaching staff, and administration arrived, there was a hustle and bustle among the visitors at the Soup Kitchen. “It’s livelier,” said a man who was getting his meal to go, “we usually just watch T.V. and talk, but today it’s livelier.” A consensus among the visitors of the Soup Kitchen that day was that they were appreciative to see the team there. “What they really enjoy most is the conversations,” added Paula Migliore, the Director of Campus Ministry for Athletes “they like when they talk with them.”

Not one table was empty with the first round of visitors to the Kitchen as they waited to feast on the Thanksgiving meal of the day: roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, seasoned collard greens and assorted homemade pies. After getting a plate of food piled high by our very own SJU team, coaching staff, and administration, the visitors were very happy and excited to eat the meal. “Ah! This is great! This is great!,” a man said while passing by to sit and eat. As a large number of the Johnnies served food, some went around shaking hands and conversing with the visitors, while others walked table-to-table refilling drinks or cleaning tables. “It was nice that they came out,” said Gerard, a visitor who grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area.

Father James Maher, C.M., Chairman of the Bread and Life and Vice President of Student Life at St. John’s University who has been serving at the Kitchen for 15 years, remembers when the men’s team came on board 10 years ago. He said, “St. John’s sponsors Bread and Life now; since September of this year.”

Rita Trucios, Director of Social Services of Bread and Life, was grateful for the SJU men’s team, coaching staff and administration’s volunteer work: “It makes such a difference. Their presence shows [the visitors] that although life is somewhat different for them, that those that reach ‘success,’ have come back home.”

This sense of community was strongly realized among St. John’s native Brooklyn dwellers, senior forward Lamont Hamilton and junior guard Eugene Lawrence: “It feels good to give back to the community,” Lawrence said. “[It’s] not everyday they have a cooked meal they can eat, where you can put a smile on their face.”

The visitors were not charity cases to the SJU volunteers, but fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. Hamilton, who negatively shakes his head to the word “charity,” replied: “It’s good to help the community. This is not charity work; it is something I like to do.”

As a volunteer walks the hallway, they will notice blown up articles from newspapers like the New York Daily News and The Tablet about Bread and Life’s long history of giving and sharing. But in a large picture frame to the right of a narrow hallway are “thank you” letters from little children colored in red, blue, and yellow crayons – some in English and others in Spanish. One note by a young child said, “Muchas gracias por la comida estuvo muy rica. Y por la agua y por el jugo estuvo delicio” (Thank you very much for the meal; it was very rich. And for the water and for the juice; it was very delicious).

“It’s all about giving back to people who are less fortunate,” Lawrence said. “It doesn’t matter if they were in Syracuse, as long as it is giving back to the community.”

Added freshman guard Larry Wright: “Because a lot of people don’t have what we have.”