CHARLOTTE – With the season still in full swing and preparations for Sunday's game at the Cleveland Browns going strong, Panthers players won't be home for Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, however, 10 of the team's rookies spread the holiday spirit to members of the Charlotte community who aren't fortunate enough to even have a home this Thanksgiving.
"It puts it all in perspective," safety Jordan Pugh said while helping serve more than 400 Thanksgiving meals at the Men's Shelter of Charlotte. "Being able to see this, you see how blessed you are. To be able to provide for them is exciting."
The Panthers players obviously are gainfully employed, but some of them come from the kinds of difficult backgrounds where putting food on the table can be a daily struggle.
"When you've been in the same position they've been in before, it hits home," defensive end/linebacker Eric Norwood said. "It's important to take part in something like this, to help out people that are less fortunate than you are."
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has helped the homeless before, on an even larger scale. As a freshman at Louisiana State University in 2005, LaFell was around when Hurricane Katrina rocked the region. After the practices leading up to the Tigers' season opener, the team distributed food and other supplies to those whose lives had been instantly turned upside-down.
"People always say they want to be a part of things, so to actually get out there and have a hands-on experience like this, it feels great," LaFell said.
Rather than dealing with a natural disaster, the Men's Shelter of Charlotte faces the daily reality of pervasive poverty. The facility – the only one of its kind in Charlotte – provided shelter and three meals a day for 550 men on average in October.
"I can't think of a better way to show our homeless citizens that Charlotte cares than having the Panthers share lunch with our men," said Carson Dean, executive director of the Men's Shelter. "We're so excited to have the Panthers join us at the Men's Shelter to celebrate Thanksgiving again this year."
It was truly a team effort. Delaware North, which provides food and beverage service at Bank of America Stadium, prepared and delivered the meals, which were donated by US FoodService.
The Panthers and the Men's Shelter staff took care of the rest. Panthers President Danny Morrison loaded rib-eye steaks onto trays to get the process started. Armanti Edwards, Trent Guy, R.J. Stanford and Greg Hardy further filled the trays. Norwood, Robert McClain and Jimmy Clausen handed them off to the waiting diners.
TopCats handed out beverages, and Sir Purr handed out high-fives.
Behind the scenes, Pugh tossed the salad, and David Gettis made sure the serving line stayed stocked. Then, at the end of the line, LaFell added the final touch by delivering a piece of chocolate cake to each patron.
"It's great to give back to the community," Clausen said. "Thanksgiving is a time of giving back."