Teaming Up For The Community

By Jim Wrobel
Special to GoHolyCross.com

The Holy Cross women's lacrosse team is known for giving it all it has on the field. But the team also has a passion for volunteering in the community. An example of this is the Crusaders' dedication to helping out a local food pantry.

The majority of the food that the Catholic Charities food pantry on Hammond Street in Worcester relies upon to be able to stock its shelves is picked up once a month at the Worcester County Food Bank. It is enough food to fill a box truck. This is a huge undertaking that requires a big group of people every month to accomplish the important task of loading the truck at the food bank and then unloading the truck at the pantry. For the past two years, the women's lacrosse team has passionately volunteered to make sure this important process gets accomplished.

To be able to count on the team every month has been such a huge help for the pantry. "We could not possibly run our food pantry without the women's lacrosse team," said Cindy Taberner, the Catholic Charities Coordinator of Emergency Stabailization/Homeless Prevention who runs the pantry. "Without their assistance each month of loading cartons of food at the food bank and then unloading the rental truck back at our food pantry, we would not have the necessary food supply to keep the pantry open. They are an incredible group of women!"

This act of volunteering by the Crusaders has a major impact on the local community as the food pantry serves over 13,000 people a year. "Our pantry provides emergency food for individuals and families, including meats, canned vegetables and fruits, pasta, tomato sauce, milk, cheese, eggs and more," said Taberner. "Whenever available, we try to provide fresh fruits and vegetables, as well. We try to have on hand, gluten free products for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Personal hygiene products, diapers and cleaning supplies are given out, when available. We also have a cat and dog food pantry for those families having difficulty feeding their pets. We have a clothes and household goods closet for those in need of these items. Our food pantry also serves as a gateway to our other services, including Catholic Charities GED program and case management services which can assist with utility and rent issues, referrals to various services in the city, prescription assistance services, etc."

The relationship between the team and the pantry started when Jen Kagno, who is the athletic department's Manager of Events and Promotions, and is also in charge of keeping track of every team's community service, was looking for athletes to help out the pantry after being contacted by Catholic Charities. "I want to acknowledge Jen Kagno for developing the relationship between Catholic Charities' Emergency Stabilization Services and Holy Cross," said Taberner. "She is the person who got all of this started and continues to organize and schedule our food bank runs each month. We count on her to make it all happen, and each and every month, just like magic, it all comes together. We owe her a debt of gratitude."

After a semester of getting athletes from various teams to volunteer, lacrosse players Caitie Shea (Class of 2012) and Annie Boylan (Class of 2011) volunteered in September of 2010. After that, the women's lacrosse team has made this volunteer experience its own. After that experience Shea saw how important it was for the team to get involved in helping out the pantry. "My favorite part was that we were able to connect with the community members and work amongst those who are working for the better of the community," said Shea. "We were able to lend a hand and make the job of those putting in great efforts a little easier. This local charity in particular has become our team's passion because of the impact it makes. The food pantry provides food for so many people who are in need and this pantry in particular is very dedicated to helping its clients get the necessary items for nourishing meals."

With everyone's busy schedules and conflicts, the dedication of the team has been demonstrated in the fact that most everyone on the team has volunteered at least once with most going numerous times. Most runs to the food bank are on a Monday morning. It takes a couple of hours to load all of the food onto the truck. Then some of the athletes that could not make it in the morning will go to the pantry in the afternoon and take all of the food off of the truck and put it in its specific place in the kitchen.

Senior Kat Sutton has been a major contributor in volunteering over the past two years and has really seen how much of an impact the team has made. "We started helping out at the pantry two years ago and have formed a strong relationship with Cindy," said Sutton. "She does so much for the community so it is nice to help her out. She is so supportive of our team and Holy Cross athletics so being able to see her and help her out is so fulfilling. It is amazing to see how quickly the food goes so we really love being able to restock the shelves." 

Shea, Sutton and the other upperclassmen have been outstanding role models to the underclassmen to show them the importance of helping out the community as the team plans on to continue its relationship with the pantry. "Helping the community is an important aspect of our time spent at Holy Cross," said Shea. "It is important to show the underclassmen the good that can come from lending a helping hand. It is important to show them the connections we can make with the city while we live here." Sutton agrees about the importance of showing the underclassmen how much of a positive influence you can have on the community. "As you go through college, you start to learn that some of the most important lessons aren't learned in the classroom but outside in everyday life experiences," said Sutton. "Going to Catholic Charities has really opened my eyes to the poverty that surrounds us. It is easy to get caught up in school and lacrosse here on the hill so it is good to see what is going on around us in our city."

Kat's sister, assistant coach Patricia Sutton (Class of 2007), who also volunteers at the pantry, loves the fact that the team is so passionate about helping out the pantry. "I think the great thing about volunteering for this local cause is that we immediately see the results of our work," said Sutton. "Every month when we return to the pantry, it is completely bare and needs to be restocked with more food. Also, when we are restocking the shelves many parents and their children are stopping in to get their groceries for the week. It is very rewarding to see the food that we just hauled over from the food bank leave the shelves and go directly to local people in need."

Head coach Stephanie Ridolfi, who has also volunteered loading and unloading the food, is so happy that her team knows the importance of giving back to others. "It is easy to forget that there is life outside the gates of Holy Cross," said Ridolfi. "The students get so engrossed in their work, athletics, social life, etc. Helping the community is a way to get us involved in the greater good and make sure that we are not only focused on ourselves."

Ridolfi also loves the fact that the team can be counted on when needed. "It says that they are more than just student-athletes," said Ridolfi. "They are members of the community that want to help and engage in their surroundings. Taking the time to do the heavy lifting and working as a team to stock the pantry builds character and really helps them understand the importance of giving back. There are a lot of things that the players could be doing during that time but they want to make sure that the people of Worcester have what they need to sustain a healthy life."

Patricia Sutton is in charge of coordinating which players can volunteer and never has any issues in finding enough people. "The girls are always so enthusiastic to volunteer at the food pantry which is really a testament to the type of people we have on our team," said Sutton. "Even with their demanding schedules, they really enjoy doing it and it is not a chore to them. We often have more people volunteer then we need and have to rotate turns so that everyone gets a chance to go."

Taberner has been extremely impressed with the dedication and attitude of the team. "I can't say enough about the lacrosse team," said Taberner. "With smiles on their faces, they take time out each month to shop, load and unload goods from the food bank. They help load and unload holiday foods, including turkeys, so that we have the supplies needed to make holiday baskets. They've used their own vehicles to help us transport food. They've done personal hygiene drives and clothes drives. Even during their busy exam times, games, and practices, they are there!"

Shea has learned a lot from volunteering. "My experience volunteering has taught me the importance of giving back to others," said Shea. "I have learned that giving a little can go a long way and make someone else's life a little brighter." Kat Sutton has had a similar experience. "I've learned that every little bit helps," said Sutton. "Just an hour or two of our time can go a long way and have an impact on organizations and people."

Kat Sutton is looking forward to continue to volunteer for local charities. "We see how much of an impact we have made here so we want to continue to help out whoever we can," said Sutton. "We have so much fun and look forward to doing it and want to continue to build these relationships with people in the community."

With this passion and enthusiasm, expect the Crusaders to continue to contribute to the well-being of Worcester.

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