SAN FRANCISCO — Greg Gooch handed out gifts, cornerback Rashard Fant started the food assembly line, linebacker Marcus Oliver delivered trays of food to tables and head coach Tom Allen went table-to-table wishing a Merry Christmas to visitors of St. Anthony’s Dining Room.
On Christmas morning, every member of Indiana’s football team had a job to do.
The Hoosiers took shifts serving meals to members of San Francisco’s homeless population on Sunday, stepping away from preparation for Wednesday’s Foster Farms Bowl to volunteer on the holiday.
“It’s a blessing just to give back to the community,” said Gooch, a junior defensive lineman. “Knowing that you can help is a real blessing. It’s a good time to give back.”
Members of Indiana’s defense and special teams unit stepped off a pair of busses shortly before 9 a.m. and grabbed hats, aprons and latex gloves before getting to work. IU’s offensive players did the same two hours later.
The players split the responsibilities, which included kitchen preparation, gift delivery, table bussing and other jobs around the dining room, which typically serves 2,400 meals per day.
On Christmas morning, St. Anthony’s prepared approximately 3,000 meals. The menu included pit ham, chicken, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato pie and hot chocolate.
While visitors waited in line, linebacker Dawson Fletcher sang Christmas songs in the kitchen as he waited to prepare the food trays. Near him, Fant had no qualms razzing 305-pound defensive tackle Ralph Green III.
“Ralph’s down there slowing down the line,” Fant joked. “He’s eating all the ham instead of putting it on the tray.”
Once those trays were stocked with food, players like Oliver, defensive linemen Nile Sykes and Robert McCray, kicker Griffin Oakes and safety Chase Dutra, among many others, walked over and placed them in front of the guests.
“It was really cool to see the people coming in with smiles,” Dutra said. “One guy said he was blessed just to wake up this morning.”
The Hoosiers, too, seemed rewarded by the experience.
“I love Christmas,” Dutra said. “Christmas is my favorite holiday, so to see people that are less fortunate than I am, and just to see how excited they really are to get one Christmas gift and one meal, they’re just so excited and it really makes you think about how much you take for granted or how much you have right at your fingertips.”