Feather in GCU baseball’s cap: Turkeys for food bank
Story and photos by Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
It was a pitch of a different kind the Grand Canyon University baseball team threw out on Saturday at the Moon Valley Safeway.
“Don’t be a nerd; donate a bird!” went one pitch, as other teammates announced:
“FUFT, baby! Fired Up for Turkeys!”
“One dollar provides seven meals!”
“Ten dollars puts a turkey on the table!”
The high-energy pronouncements to customers were part of the 13th annual Super Saturday Turkey Drive, when various groups, including GCU baseball, fan out at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance locations across Phoenix and Surprise and at 28 Albertsons and Safeway stores in the Valley to feed families in need for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We’re bringing the juice today. We’re an electric factory,” pitcher Kade Mechals, a high-spirited senior business management major, said outside of one set of entry doors: “Get your spirit fingers up! Go Lopes!” he implored his teammates as a way to encourage shoppers to donate turkeys, nonperishable items or cash to St. Mary’s. The team collected $2,083.50 — $750 more than last year — and 81 turkeys.
As a boon, Desert Financial pledged to match the first 1,000 turkey donations, and Albertsons and Safeway pledged to match donations, too.
“We just like the overall goal. It’s very powerful helping feed people,” said Mechals of why the baseball team returns for Super Saturday year after year. This was the team’s seventh year to participate as a baseball family over the six-hour food and donation drive, sharing their love with the community’s families in need. “It’s a great time for family and loved ones,” he said.
Coach Andy Stankiewicz said the Super Saturday Turkey Drive is one of the ways the team loves to give back to the community. The holiday break away from baseball, when minds are focused on other things, such as those in need, re-energizes the team for the spring.
“We try to get out in the community and help out,” he said. “The guys get together. It’s the holidays. We’re very appreciative of what we’ve been given, so any way we can give back, we try to do that, and St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance is so good at providing food and meals for those who need it.”
While most GCU students already had left their residence halls and were home, many of the baseball team players delayed their trips home. They wouldn’t miss Super Saturday.
“Some of our guys are from out of state. We do this, typically, the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the guys will tell me, ‘Coach, I’ll leave after the food drive.’ These are just great young men,” Stankiewicz said.
Pitcher Cole Hoskins, a senior communications major from Anaheim, Calif., was looking at a five-hour trip home right after the food drive.
“I could have left Thursday. But I had this; this is important,” he said.
Liz Hoffert thought so, too.
She pulled up to one of the Safeway entryways, got out of her car and asked for help from some of the baseball team members.
She had six turkeys and six or seven bags of food to donate.
“I volunteer at St. Mary’s every week. I’ve been doing that for seven years since I’ve been retired,” she said, so she knows the importance of those donations. “If I was in that situation, I would hope somebody would help me. We’re all in this together.”
The players cheered Hoffert’s donation, yelling “Yeah!” with plenty of ringing of a cowbell to celebrate.
It’s a sound they wanted their teammates to hear at the other store entryway a few feet from them to let them know they had yet another donation and to keep the “competition” going. One side received more turkeys during the first shift, but the other side landed more cash donations.
Safeway Store Director Michael Houston said Super Saturday is “very exciting,” and this Super Saturday was no exception as GCU mascot Thunder spent his time in a shopping cart race or two outside and hobnobbed with shoppers inside.
He tried to sneak in a bag of M&M’s to Travis Christiansen and his brother, Connor’s, haul at the check-out line.
“If you put anything else in my basket without my knowledge, you’re going outside,” Travis warned Thunder playfully.
The Christiansen brothers knew they were going to donate something to the drive as soon as they saw the enthusiastic baseball players outside the store.
“When I see a bunch of hollering dudes. … It was an awesome thing to see. It was uplifting,” Travis said, adding how a couple of his friends attend GCU. “We know it’s a good school. It’s really, really awesome they do projects like this.”
Their donation of canned goods also was met by a celebratory cheer and cowbell.
St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance inventory manager Ann Hedge, who was on-site at the Moon Valley location, has been a boots-on-the-ground representative of the alliance for all of the food and donation drive’s 13 years.
GCU baseball, she said, is always “gung-ho, and that’s what we want,” to inspire shoppers to give.
The collected food — that’s turkeys and other assorted holiday dinner items — will be distributed through Wednesday. Distribution day is when all the magic until this point comes to fruition: “I do the distribution end. That’s HUGE,” Hedge said, to see all those families and spread a little joy during the holiday.
The food bank alliance expects more than 12,000 families to stop by in the three days leading up to Thanksgiving to pick up Holiday Food Boxes.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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