The senior football players in attendance helped feed and celebrate the holiday with as many as 1,000 children who were either homeless or living in poverty. The players helped serve the children turkey and many of the other fixings for a holiday meal.
The charity event was put forth by the American Youth Council, which has overseen the Cobb Senior Bowl since its inception six years ago. It took place on the evening of the teams’ first practice leading up to Saturday’s game at McEachern’s Walter Cantrell Stadium.
Players stayed after dinner to spend time with the children, and they all took part in games of basketball, face-painting, arts and crafts, Christmas cookie-decorating, video games and a gift exchange with Santa.
“When you look at it, it’s pretty grim,” said Michael Siano, director of program development for the American Youth Council. “We’re not going to solve all the problems here, but at least for one day, the kids will feel whole and complete. Being in a homeless situation is tragic. Spending time with the kids can give them hope. We hate to see a kid not thriving because he thinks no one cares about him.”
Added Campbell coach Harris Rainbow, who will lead the Nationals team Saturday against the Americans: “You look around and it’s a reality check. You don’t believe that that many kids are homeless. It makes you thankful for what you have, and it makes you want to give more.”
Siano said he gained interest in running a children’s charity when he began working with high school football programs in the area five years ago.
Already aware of the poverty and economic challenges some families in the area face, Siano sought advice from the founder of Holiday for Hope in Chicago and used his model to launch the event.
“For us, it’s not all about the football,” Siano said. “We’re interested in getting the kids involved with service learning and bringing awareness in the homeless situation in metro Atlanta.”