Players team up to help hurricane victims

CHARLOTTE – Christian McCaffrey overcame a slow start with an assist from Ryan Kalil, then Julius Peppers set up Cam Newton to finish it off.

But the real victory celebration broke out hours later, when the 1,500 relief boxes that Panthers players packed assembly-line style Monday at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina arrived in Fayetteville, N.C., to assist those still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

"It's a lot of fun to be able to come out here and help in a very small way," Kalil said. "Second Harvest Food Bank, I've been here before and helped these guys out, and they're incredible.

"This is essentially the hub for all the distribution to all the areas affected by the hurricane, and Mr. Tepper has been very gracious."

The record-setting pace set by head coach Ron Rivera and about 80 players and staff is just the tip of the iceberg for Panthers owner David Tepper's latest community contribution. Over the next couple of weeks, 23,500 more boxes funded by Tepper will roll out of the food bank doors to be distributed throughout the region. Carolina Panthers staff members will pack the next 2,500 boxes Tuesday bound for Myrtle Beach, S.C., while 1,000 more prepared Wednesday by the Women of the Panthers will head to Wilmington, N.C.

Tepper was in the middle of the assembly line across the way from Kalil and Co., waiting to put cans of corn in the relief boxes while the other assembly line built a one-pallet lead in a friendly competition of sorts.

"You guys have got more people!" Tepper exclaimed.

His explanation for the deficit was debatable, but there's no doubt that more people will get more of what they need thanks to Tepper's donation.

"Mr. Tepper has helped so many food banks in so many regions with disaster relief, so now that we have this major event going on in the Carolinas, we're just so thrilled that he's again stepped up," said food bank CEO Kay Carter, adding that Tepper's contribution also includes fresh produce being cold-stored. "One of the great things about being in Charlotte - well everything is great about being in Charlotte – but as a food bank here we often are not impacted, so often we're called upon to play this role while those that were impacted are trying to get their facilities up and running.

"It gives us an opportunity to show what Charlotte is really made of, and to have the entire Panthers organization here, it's a great day."

View photos of the Panthers packing emergency food boxes at Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

The players hit the ground running shortly after a team meeting Monday morning, and McCaffrey immediately became the target of a couple of veterans.

"Christian, let's go!" Kalil playfully barked as the running back tried to settle into the task of folding boxes before teammates down the line filled them (and, believe it or not, Graham Gano was tasked with the graham crackers).

"Christian, you're so slow," Greg Olsen added.

"I think it's probably the first time he's ever been told he was slow," Kalil said. "Him putting the boxes together was slowing down our line.

"But my guys are coachable."

Second Harvest volunteer coordinator Nancy Hagerman noticed as much.

"They're working really fast," Hagerman said. "This is awesome. We could never get this much done."

The coaching/ribbing paid off with a fast finish for those on McCaffrey's side And all told, both sides combined to reach their 1,500-box goal in a little more than an hour.

The end of the winning line featured Peppers among those putting the completed boxes on pallets before Newton navigated a forklift in place and moved them toward the loading area.

"Christian is probably a little beat up from yesterday, so we'll let him slide a little bit," Peppers said. "We're beating those other guys pretty good."

Peppers, a North Carolina native who launched his own hurricane relief effort Friday, wasn't surprised by Tepper's generosity.

"That's just the kind of guy he is," Peppers said. "He wants to be very involved, wants to be a part of the community. This is a great thing that we're doing that he spearheaded, and it's great to see the team come together like this.

"It's an inspiring thing that he's doing, bringing guys together like this, and hopefully it will inspire some guys to get out and do more in the community."

Kalil, in his 12th and final NFL season, said he couldn't recall the entire team coming together off the field quite like this before – but it didn't surprise him, either.

"There are a lot of guys in our locker room that do a lot of great things for our community, but very rarely do we all get to come together and do it as a team," Kalil said. "It's a special thing. But I also think a lot of guys have done a great job over their careers of really supporting our community, so it's not a surprise to see them out here now.

"It's great to have an impact and help out."

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