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    Northwestern Athletics Volunteers to Feed Thousands

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    Check out a photo gallery from the Whole Foods Parking Lot!

    By Jocelyn Vinoya Serranilla

    The parking lot of Whole Foods in Northbrook, Ill., became an unlikely source of spring workouts for fellow Northwestern Wildcats student-athletes Tim Weak and Dannielle Diamant as they gripped, grabbed and lifted 40-pound boxes of whole chicken fryers and leg quarters while volunteering for a community outreach project.

    "It sounds like an interesting opportunity, sounds different," Weak said as he surveyed the parking lot the size of a football field. There were boxes of chicken everywhere, waiting to be moved to dinner tables. Weak recalls committing to the project right away, knowing that many student-athletes were gone because of spring break. "They needed people to lift things so I figured I could be of service."

    Weak, a 6-1 cornerback for the Northwestern football team, immediately huddled with Wildcat volunteers upon arrival at 7 a.m. at the Whole Foods parking lot, located at 840 Willow Road in Northbrook. He looked at the faces in the huddle and smiled, "It's fun being around people I know doing stuff like this. I really wanted to help out if I could, knowing that this is going to feed thousands of people."

    In all, the two student-athletes and other NU family, friends and staff helped unload more than 61,000 pounds of frozen chicken to serve at least 123,000 meals in soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food pantries in the Chicagoland area. 

    "This is really cool, that we're doing something like this and giving back to the community," said Diamant, who just flew into Chicago O'Hare on a red-eye flight from Las Vegas after a one-week spring break with her family. She was met at the airport by a teammate, dropped off in Evanston to pick up her car before heading to Whole Foods. 

    Like Weak, Diamant committed to the project knowing that it was a unique opportunity to lend a hand. "It's something worth doing for sure," Weak said, both agreeing that teamwork was the key ingredient to moving hundreds of boxes of frozen chicken before they thawed. Cody Cejda, director of Northwestern football operations, immediately jumped right onto one semi-trailer, pulled off the plastic covers of each palette and started passing boxes down to the tallest receiver in the beeline - Davon Robb, a Northwestern athletics Academic Advisor. 

    Weak caught plenty of Cejda's passes, gripping each box with his bare hands.  Someone offered him a pair of gloves, but they were too small. "Oh, well," he said, "My hands are definitely cold but it's fun," as the Wildcat cornerback continued to carry each 40-pound box and stacking them into rows on wooden palettes. 

    The rest of the volunteers loaded the boxes on a dolly and transported them close to the palettes, where they were unloaded and stacked 10-boxes high by NU athletics staff Amy Potter, Maureen Palchak and Katie Stankiewicz.

    In between breaks, Tim Weak took time to get to know four seventh graders from River Trails Middle School and a 9-year-old fourth grader from Indian Grove School who milled around him, asking questions about his playing days at Northwestern.  "It's fun," he said as he exchanged pleasantries with the young volunteers. He asked them what school they go to and if they played a sport, and shook hands with them -- with his cold hands. "It got chilly near the end of it for sure," he said. "My hands are definitely cold but, yeah, it's fun."

    Danielle Diamant, who plays forward/center for Northwestern's women's basketball team, did not show any fatigue at all from a five-hour flight from Las Vegas. "I took the red-eye, checked into campus to get my car, then drove to Northbrook," she said. "It's really cool that we're doing something like this."  By red-eye she meant boarding the plane from Las Vegas at 1:30 in the morning for a five-hour flight to Chicago, finally arriving at O'Hare by 7 a.m.

    On a chilly, foggy Saturday morning, and after being cooped in a plane on a long flight, she could have excused herself that day.  Instead, Diamant rushed to Northbrook to join other volunteers. "I made a commitment to Maureen (Palchak, NU's director of community relations), and I like giving back when I get the chance. My mom and the rest of my family did a great job instilling in me the attitude of giving back and volunteering. This is good," she said.

    Using her 6'5" frame that makes her a standout for the Wildcats, Diamant positioned herself atop a ramp to receive and load each box into the Salvation Army's trailer.  Like Weak, she carried the boxes of chicken with her bare hands, oblivious to the fact that the boxes were frozen. As the Salvation Army trailer pulled away, Diamant waited on cars, vans and trailers representing food pantries, homeless shelters and soup kitchens to pull close enough into the heap to pick up the donations.  As each vehicle pulled in, Diamant loaded the trunk until full with boxes of chicken.

    Volunteers representing other organizations helped Weak and Diamant load the chicken in vehicles of 52 charitable organizations to feed the poor and the hungry from every corner of Chicagoland.  Recipients of the donations include the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry, Kane County Food Pantry, Elgin Food Pantry, Connections for the Homeless, Ebenezer AME Soup Kitchen, Pacific Gardens Mission in South Canal, Two Li'l Fishes, Connections for the Homeless, A Just Harvest and Salvation Army in Evanston and St. Charles. 

    One of the relief agencies, Hillside Food Pantry, feeds at least 500 families a month in the Evanston-Wilmette areas, said Daniel Jariabka, director of Hunger Resource Network, which coordinated the charitable distribution with Whole Foods and Miller Poultry of Indiana.  

    How did this many donations become possible? Hunger Resource's Jariabka said through the remarkable generosity of customers and volunteers wiling to make a difference in their communities, Whole Foods stores in Evanston collected money from shoppers under One Dime at a Time and Bag Hunger campaigns that raised more than $26,000 in donations. Hunger Resource Network, a not-for profit organization that links businesses and charitable organizations to help feed the needy, used the donations to purchase hundreds of boxes of chicken from Miller Poultry, a small family owned poultry farm in Northern Indiana, which raises Amish chickens. Hunger Resource reached out to volunteers from Northwestern and other agencies to help distribute the donations in Chicagoland.

    As the day progressed, more vehicles pulled into the parking lot and the Wildcats teams employed the same process that helped move the frozen chicken fast enough to feed the hungry - carry, lift and load boxes. "This is cool," both student-athletes chuckled, as they watched each vehicle drive away to distribute the meals. Meanwhile, Tim Weak and Dannielle Diamant got a spring conditioning boost, thanks in part to their volunteering efforts to benefit their Chicago community.

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