When Owens College softball players Lydia Eckel and Aerica Susor first chose to
volunteer community service alongside their teammates, they probably never thought they would be providing relief efforts for Haiti earthquake victims.
The two Genoa High graduates were two of 20 Owens’ student-athletes who volunteered on Martin Luther King Day.
Beginning at 9 a.m., the softball players began painting the waiting room, assembling survival backpacks for the homeless, and stocking and sorting food items at Food For Thought, which is located in New Harvest Christian Church on Seaman Road in Oregon. They planned to stay until 3 p.m.
Food for Thought was founded with the overall mission of assisting the needy through the organization’s stationary food pantry, mobile food pantry, and picnic program. Six days per week, Food For Thought is credited with providing community outreach services to thousands of individuals as part of its efforts to increase access to food for hungry people.
“Having people volunteer, and having all these girls here from the Owens softball team taking what’s a day off for them and spending it here is great,” said New Harvest Church Senior Pastor Mike Przylbylski.
“There is so much that needs to get done, and we operate virtually entirely with volunteers and the volume of families that we serve and the things that are going on here, just having these girls give a day like this, is just awesome. It lets us get some things done on a day that normally we’re closed, and we get a chance to catch up a little bit.”
In addition, the Owens athletes and coaches were separating non-perishable food and basic hygiene items for eventual delivery to needy families and individuals in Haiti.
“It’s crazy,” Susor said about the Haiti situation. “I can’t believe it, but hopefully this stuff that we are doing will benefit them.”
Eckel said, “I sorted through lots of shirts and clothes, and I actually put all the canned goods in separate boxes and carried them out to the truck, and all that sorts of stuff.
“A lot of the clothing is going to Haiti actually, and most of the food is going to people in our area,” Eckel continued. “I think it is kind of both — a little for Haiti and a little bit for people around here. (The earthquake) just happened a couple days ago, so we got involved.”
Susor, a pitcher on the softball team, said it was good to use her athletic skills for something other than on the diamond, like lifting boxes. She said this kind of initiative makes her feel empowered, like when on the mound during a game.
“It makes me feel like I almost want to take charge of things. I like to be in charge, so I kind of guide things around me a little bit,” Susor said.
As freshmen, the two were part of an Owens team that finished 27-13 overall, and a perfect 8-0 in the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to win the school’s seventh league title last spring. The Express lost to Lansing CC in the NJCAA Region XII championships.
Coach Duane Latham says he asks his players to do this “to become societal contributors and engage in community outreach and service.”
“There are a variety of reasons. Obviously, the first thing that they’ve been able to see is that it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to get things prepared to be able to take it out to the homeless that are out there as well as things that are going to Haiti,” Latham said.
“That it takes people being organized, that it takes people to just reach out. I think the kids begin to see the importance of giving back to the community as much as the community does give to them.”
Another reason, Latham says, is that it helps him develop his program and teach his players teamwork.
"Any kind of experience that you have where you are working together as a group and as a team just helps them understand the importance of everybody being on the same level, working together, and just getting it done. I think this is a lot, and I think it is something they will obviously utilize as they grow older and get into business or whatever they are trying to get into,” Latham said.
“Poise in all programs is necessary, especially as times are, to reach out to the community and give a helping hand. That’s something that we, with the number of student-athletes we have, have the capability of doing. So, we’re working with the United Way and finding organizations that can use those hands, be it organizing or stocking,” Latham continued.
The softball players say they learned from the experience.
“It shows that we are a team and that we do things together,” Eckel said.
Susor said. “I think it makes us look like a team when we all work together, and we all help each other, and we help the people around us and our community. It just shows that we care and want to give to other people as well. I just hope that everything that we’re doing here can help everyone.”
There was also a local foundation working alongside the softball players Monday. Pastor Przylbylski said every week volunteers arrive from all over at Food For Thought, which is a separate organization from his church.
“Food for Thought is connected with so many churches. We have people from 20 to 30 churches who are here working. People volunteer a few hours here and there whether it’s one day a week, one day a month, whether it’s Friday nights with packing lunches for the homeless, or it’s Saturday mornings,” Przylbylski said.
“There are just so many people from so many community organizations and church organizations. We alone as a church are not capable of doing this alone. This is something that God has allowed us to be a vehicle through which this happens, and without everybody else it’s just an idea. They really make it happen.
“As you can see, (Food For Thought) is in our building and operates out of this. This is a base, although we operate a mobile food pantry that goes to other places, we work with other churches, which we are pleased to do. This is not ours, this is ours to own. God has just, like I said, made this the vehicle through which this happens and we are just thrilled with that.”