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Huskies help fight hunger in Bay Area

Huskies receiver Antavius Smith has been helping the needy for most of his life.
Huskies receiver Antavius Smith has been helping the needy for most of his life.

SAN FRANCISCO – As the bus arrived and Washington’s defensive players and coaches filed off, the Huskies’ offensive squad waiting outside Glide Memorial Church prepared to board the same bus and head back to the team hotel.

They worked in shifts serving Christmas meals to homeless and poor families and individuals: first the offense, then the defense.

Antavius Sims, a senior receiver, pulled a double.

“I’m staying,” he called out as his offensive teammates boarded the bus, then he headed back inside and went back to work.

This is Sims’ first Christmas away from his hometown of Americus, Ga., where his grandmother taught him from an early age that it was more important to give on this day than to receive.

And so he has, each Christmas since he was a child – 15 or 16 years running, he said – at the Zion Hope Baptist Church back home. That’s why for Sims, helping out at Glide was more than just a stop on the list of activities while the Huskies are here this week for the Fight Hunger Bowl.

“I do it every year,” Sims said. “This is the first year I’ve been away from home during Christmas, so it was a blessing to get to do it with different people, with my teammates.

“When you give back to the people that don’t really have a place to go or a place to eat, it just makes you feel better as a person on the holidays, to help people get back on their feet, people that don’t have enough money to buy food.”

Sims and his teammates weren’t alone. This was a massive, intricate effort at the most iconic location for San Francisco’s homeless community in the rugged Tenderloin neighborhood. Signs posted throughout the Glide facilities encouraged regular volunteers to take Christmas off, because they already had 600 people signed up to help serve meals.

Glide Memorial, which has been served by Rev. Cecil Williams for 50 years – he retired as pastor but remains heavily involved as Glide’s CEO – became famous long ago for its diverse, “radically inclusive” approach toward faith and the disenfranchised population in San Francisco.

The church estimates that it serves 850,000 free meals per year, and more than 5,000 people were expected to be fed on Christmas Day.

The Huskies were a big part of that. Many of them worked over an assembly line of bread, peanut butter and brown paper bags, putting together sack lunches to be given out today, then packing them into large, clear plastic bags.

Hau’oli Kikaha and Josh Shirley, among others, helped to load trays with fruit. Sean Parker and Princeton Fuimaono shuttled back and forth between the kitchen and the café, hauling steel containers of steaming turkey meat and other assorted fixings. Trays packed with turkey, ham, rolls, vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, gravy and pie were gladly consumed by the folks in attendance.

Others helped elderly or disabled patrons to their seats, or helped signal to other staffers when chairs at tables became available.

Earlier in the day were two church services, accompanied by the famed Glide gospel choir and band.

Players and coaches from Brigham Young, UW’s opponent in Friday’s game, volunteered earlier in the day at St. Anthony’s Dining Room.

Jean Cooper, a Glide spokesperson, said it’s always nice for clients to be able to see coaches or players with connections to the Bay Area, such as UW interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo, who played for the Oakland Raiders for seven seasons.

“Over the years that we’ve had the guys coming in from the hunger bowl, we’ve had folks like the coach today, all these different great players that all of our staff know who they are, our clients know who they are, and they’re able to connect with them and have an opportunity to say hello,” Cooper said.