For nearly two decades, almost since the day they arrived in St. Louis, the Rams have teamed up with the Urban League and Schnucks to help ensure that families around the city will get to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
During that time, the annual Thanksgiving project has grown by leaps and bounds. Upon its inception, it provided meals for around 500 families in the area. This year, more than 2,000 needy families being served at three different area locations will receive full-course meals including turkeys, potatoes, cranberries and all of the usual accoutrements.
Victoria Reaves, the Divisional Vice President of the Urban League, has been an integral part of the process for about 10 years and said she is constantly blown away by the Rams commitment to not only making the project work but finding ways to make it better.
“Each time that we do this, the ability to work through the logistics of it, the definite financial contribution in responding to the need in the community, the volunteers that come out and help us because as a non profit organization we don’t have a lot of resources for staffing so those individuals that come out and help us get this prepared and set up for today is very much needed, very much appreciated,” Reaves said. “I can’t say enough about all the people we work with from the Rams, the players that come out. The clients enjoy it. They don’t have the ability to touch and see a Rams player very often so this is kind of neat for those individuals to come up and say they got to meet an actual NFL player. I think that’s kind of cool.”
The usual Rams involvement includes everything from the front office staff venturing to the three Urban League headquarters – one off N. Vandeventer in the city, one off Jennings Station in the county and another just across the river in East St. Louis – to help prepare the bags for dispersal to the players handing out the meals to those who go to those locations to pick them up.
Additionally, the team is responsible for a large part of the financial donation needed to purchase the meals. Feeding 2,000 families comes at a hefty price but the donations come on a voluntary basis from the players. This year, with 100 percent of the 53 active roster players and eight practice squad members chipping in, the Rams donated $34,500 to the cause.
All of that work is a part of the normal process for the Thanksgiving giveaway but this year, one Ram stepped forward with an idea to add a twist to the proceedings.
So Hayes went to the Rams community relations staff with an idea to help personalize the experience a bit with the goal of reaching people who might not otherwise be able to participate.
The idea was simple: instead of staying at a stationary location and handing out the meals as has been the custom, Hayes wanted to round up his line mates and get out into the community to make home deliveries.
“Just growing up not having as much and now being in a position to give back, you always want to give back and just do something good,” Hayes said. “It’s a blessing in itself. I’ve always been the type to try to do something a little special for people. We did it in Tennessee last year and I always try to do something at Christmas too. It’s just something to try to give back a little.”
So, for the first time in the 18 years of the program’s existence, the Rams made about 30 home deliveries in addition to the three standard location giveaways. While the offensive linemen (East St. Louis), running backs (Vandeventer) and wide receivers (Jennings Station) passed out their meals, the defensive line was in a mini-bus riding around and handing out meals everywhere from neighborhoods to senior citizen centers.
After initially coming up with ways to make 10 home deliveries, the number was tripled as Hayes insisted upon finding more people in need of the meals, whether it was for someone less fortunate or just someone who simply wasn’t able to get out and pick up the meals.
“We also picked some families that have kids so it would be kind of cool for the kids get to meet the Rams in their home,” Reaves said. “Heck, I would be excited; none of the Rams have ever been to my house! So that’s how we went about locating the families. We reached out to a number of partners instead of just the ones that always come up to our facility. We tried to find the ones that usually can’t make it there.”
That might have been the most difficult part for Hayes had no trouble getting his linemates to join him on the project. Ends
“It was a great day,” Langford said. “We are all blessed to be in a position to give back to the community and help the less fortunate families or maybe not even less fortunate and just people who couldn’t go out and do it for themselves. Delivering the home meals is a blessing and I am just happy that everyone appreciated it and enjoyed it.”
Of course, for anyone who knows the likes of Long and Hayes, the day’s activities would not only allow for the chance to provide for those in need but to also have a good time.
So it was that Brockers and Conrath were provided with full on turkey costumes to wear for the deliveries.
“It was just to make it a little bit more fun,” Hayes said. “I thought it would be a little more interesting if a Ram comes to the door with a turkey outfit on. It just shows that we’ve got a sense of humor and we are people, too. It just lightens up the spirit of Thanksgiving a little more.”
The rest wore Thanksgiving themed hats but the rookies stole the show.
On one delivery at the St. Andrews Senior Citizens Center, Brockers knocked on the door and then provided a full on turkey dance with noises included for a happy customer.
Despite his cameo role as the world’s largest turkey, the outgoing Brockers had no problems embracing his new look.
“I told them I am a guy with a great sense of humor,” Brockers said. “I’ll do anything to make somebody laugh and make somebody’s day so if the suits had to come on then I would happily do it.”
The reactions those costumes and the oversized players brought were priceless.
“Some people were just so thankful,” Long said. “And we are just really thankful to have that opportunity and make those deliveries to help spread the holiday cheer.”
And ultimately, that’s all that really mattered to the many involved with one of the Rams’ best on going, off the field projects.
“It definitely reminds me of how I was brought up,” Brockers said. “I can just tell if somebody did this for my family I would have been just in tears and joyful and thankful for everything. We all really just enjoy giving back to this community.”