Baseball competition boosts turkey donations

GCU baseball team members who took part in the Super Saturday Turkey Drive included: front row, from left, Tyler Wyatt, Austin Bull, Dane Stankiewicz, Michael Perzan and Joel Thomas; back row, from left, graduate assistant Kasey Coffman, Seth Beckstead, C.J. Schauwecker, Jake Jarvis, Jonny Weaver, Ben Kirke, Coach Andy Stankiewicz.

Story by Theresa Smith
Photos by Debbie Accomazzo, Josh Hauser and Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

Fresh from an intrasquad pitching competition and a three-game series between the “purple’’ and the “white’’ squads, the Grand Canyon University baseball team was competing again on Saturday – this time for hungry Arizonans.

The players manning the north doors to the Moon Valley Safeway were competing against the players manning the south doors to determine which group would encourage more shoppers to contribute to the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance Super Saturday Turkey Drive. The 12th annual event was held at SMFBA locations in Phoenix and Surprise, along with 28 Safeway and Albertsons locations across the Valley.

Thunder shows his Lopes Up with a GCU employee and his family.

For the sixth year, coach Andy Stankiewicz and his players took on the role of encouraging shoppers to donate money or purchase turkeys and nonperishable food items as donations. In 6 1/2 hours, shoppers donated $1,334.16 and a record 133 turkeys – more than double the amount donated at the Moon Valley location last year. With turkeys valued at $13 each, the total raised was approximately $3,000.

Nate Gawelko, Josh Andrews, volunteer assistant coach Paul Panaccione, Kona Quiggle, Brock Burton and Dane Stankiewicz hold aloft a turkey donated by Panaccione.

One team leader attributed the plethora of donations to the door vs. door competition.

“Each side was heckling the other side,’’ said Austin Bull, a senior from Chandler. “I would say that Tyler Wyatt was leading that effort."

As with Wyatt, this was Bull’s fourth turkey drive.

“Our marketing techniques get a little better each year in trying to get people to donate,’’ he said. “Whether it is utilizing the signs or showing enthusiasm, we are trying to create energy around it."

The smooth talking of Jonny Weaver, a freshman from Mountain Pointe High School, did not go unnoticed.

“I will give Weaver some credit,’’ Bull said. “He might have a future in sales; he’s actually a pretty good salesman.’’

GCU Community Outreach manager Debbie Accomazzo was impressed with the willingness of the players to understand the plight of hungry people in the Valley and to impress upon shoppers that a $1 donation equals seven meals from SMFBA.

“I gave them the facts and they created their own narrative,’’ she said. “For several hours, they became advocates for food insecurity in Arizona. They did so enthusiastically and in a way that was generous. They made shoppers feel appreciated, especially when they donated. I have never been heralded in a grocery store the way that I was when I dropped my turkey in the bin.’’

As the players informed shoppers about the SMFBA campaign when they entered each door and cheered them when they emerged with donations, Thunder interacted with shoppers inside, helping them load their carts and even temporarily taking over the cash register.

Thunder took over the cash register at the Moon Valley Safeway.
Jack Schneider and Nico Burgarello show off a few of the 10 turkeys purchased by one shopper.

One woman bought 10 turkeys and dropped them off at the north door, manned by a group of players who intermittently chanted “turkey, turkey, turkey’’ and were quick to inform their “competitors’’ at the south door of their progress.

“Forty-two turkeys over here,’’ hollered Antoine Mistico, a sophomore from Chandler.

“There were a lot of people who were super generous,’’ said Nico Burgarello, a sophomore from Glendale. “And some of the people we met volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Bank, so that’s another way to help. There was also a strong awareness of GCU. One shopper walked in with GCU sunglasses on, and a professor came in.’’

GCU employees shopped and donated, along with alumni, including the wife of a former Lopes baseball player.

“It is awesome to connect with the community, ‘’ said Jack Schneider, a redshirt sophomore from Gilbert. “We try to do our part.’’

Volunteer Mo Harper became a GCU baseball convert.

“The baseball team is so interactive with everyone coming in and out,’’ she said. “They have been giving high fives and giving away hats.  Little girls want to take pictures with the baseball team; it is adorable.’’

Tyler Wyatt, Joel Thomas, Jonny Weaver, Ben Kirke and Jake Jarvis (squatting) show their Lopes Up with GCU fans.

Shannon Lewis, an SMFBA employee, was pleased with the fast start.

“We had 32 turkeys donated by 10 a.m.,’’ she said. “The baseball players get the crowd going.  We love them.’’

At the south door, shopper Diane Davey handed a heavy, frozen turkey to Kona Quiggle, a junior from Greenway High School.

“I am always hearing about the need for food donations,’’ she said. “I am not even cooking a turkey. I am invited out for Thanksgiving, so I wanted to help other people.’’

Coach Stankiewicz wore the smile of a proud papa as he watched his players and three staff members interact with a steady stream of shoppers.

Kona Quiggle helps shopper Diane Davey.

“It is all about our guys getting away from the field for a little bit and giving back to the community,’’ Stankiewicz said. “St. Mary’s Food Bank is such a great organization and they’ve been doing it for so long and doing it so well. It is a privilege to be able to partner with them, be a part of their team and get folks to buy turkeys and canned goods. To help folks have a nice dinner, that’s a really cool thing. The guys embrace it.’’

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].


Related content:

ABC 13: St. Mary's Food Bank seeks donations across the Valley.

GCU Today: GCU employees lend at turkey giveaway

GCU Today: GCU gets award for work with St. Mary's Food Bank


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