Last September, the Miami Dolphins and the AARP decided to join forces and make a valiant attempt to pack 1,000,000 meals for hungry elders all over South Florida; a storm drowned their ambitious project just before they could accomplish their goal. This time, however, no such inconvenience was going to stand in their way.
"Two things have worked out. We had a great advantage in September but the weather was not on our side as the day went on. So the generosity, the hospitality of Nova Southeastern University has really helped." said Lisa Ryerson, the President of the AARP Foundation.
Using the Don Taft University Center Arena at Nova Southeastern University as their workplace on Sunday, over 4,000 volunteers taking shifts managed to reach their intended goal of 1,000,000 boxes of food, even surpassing that number thanks to the efforts made by the eager volunteers.
"In addition to the meal pack, volunteers are learning about other ways that they can help vulnerable seniors here in South Florida, so they're learning about what they can do to keep people socially connected, they're learning about areas of volunteerism in income and boosting that income," Ryerson said. "It's about the meal pack, but it's also about volunteers who will be continuing to volunteer on behalf of those in need."
And there are many elders in need, and that's what makes this event such a big deal. Ryerson gave some very alarming stats regarding just how much of a problem it really is.
"It's a big problem." Ryerson lamented. "Overall nationally there are just over ten million people who are fifty and older who live in hungry each and every day, and here in Florida, one in seven (older) Floridians live in poverty."
With that put into perspective, it's no wonder at all that the Miami Dolphins and the AARP Foundation took such elaborate measures in making this event as big as it was, and it worked as it attracted thousands of hard-working volunteers to contribute to the cause.
Of course, the volunteers did not go home empty-handed, and no, it wasn't just because they left with a sense of accomplishment or pride for doing the right thing, that's something that gets said in cartoons.
While the volunteers sincerely were excited to help, they did not have to do it alone. They had the privilege of being able to work side-by-side with their favorite Dolphins alumni, as well as coaches and front office members like head coach Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, general manager Dennis Hickey, Vice President of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, and CEO Tom Garfinkel.
There were also several current players, which included linebackers Kelvin Sheppard, Spencer Paysinger and Chris McCain, as well as cornerbacks Zack Bowman, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
"It feels great, you know what I'm saying?" said Davis, "I've heard a lot about it, packing a million meals. So actually seeing it and being a part of it and working with it? It's actually exciting to see everybody out here ... it's kinda like the first interaction of the year with them."
Linebacker Chris McCain, who is known for his charitable acts with young Dolphins fans, elaborated on what it meant for him to come out and do these kinds of events.
"I don't want fans to feel like the players are too big and we put ourselves first, we always have to give back and let them know that we're just average people." said McCain. "Football is only our profession, but we're still average people, we still bleed the same colors."
The volunteers got to get up close and personal with these players and alumni, getting autographs signed and being able to snap the occasional photograph. But the two organizations didn't stop there.
With the extra space granted to them by Nova Southeastern University, the Miami Dolphins and the AARP Foundation put together a community fair, with food trucks, attractions for the children of these volunteers, and booths where even more alumni were available for autographs once the volunteers' shift was over.
"This year we had a better planning committee," said former Dolphins tight end Troy Drayton. "They just planned it better and they wanted to make it (the event) more for families."
And make it more for families they did. Between the face painting, the Junior Training Camp drills and a very familiar looking fair attractions that I recently had the privilege to enjoy about a month ago, the families had an amazing time enjoying themselves after working hard.
But besides the pure fun, there were also booths meant to show the volunteers that hunger was not the only thing that South Florida elders were facing. Income, housing, and of course the hunger, the AARP and the Miami Dolphins were aiming to raise awareness for all of these issues.
The exact count courtesy of the Miami Dolphins was 3,472 boxes, which amounted to 1,071,360 total meals. Not only did they reach their goal, but they surpassed it by a substantial margin. Now the only question is this: how will they up the ante next year?
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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