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A '10' for community service

  • A weighty contribution
    A weighty contribution  Members of the men's gymnastics team, with coach Cliff Gauthier (far right), stand behind the 3,000 pounds of non-perishable food they collected and donated to Fish, a Williamsburg food bank.  Julia Martin
  • Helping the community
    Helping the community  W&M men's gymnasts unload a portion of the 3,000 pounds of non-perishable food items they collected to donate to Fish, a local food pantry.  Stephen Salpukas
  • Waiting for weigh-in
    Waiting for weigh-in  The men's gymnastics team lined the walls of the basement of W&M Hall with bags of food collected from seven area neighborhoods and donated recently to Fish, a local food bank.  Jim Ducibella
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The William & Mary men’s gymnastics team believes in lofty goals, no matter the exercise.

So when it came to year three of the team’s after-Christmas food collection for a Williamsburg food pantry known as “Fish,” the team reached higher than ever before.

In 2009, the team donated 1,500 pounds of non-perishable items. Last year, it donated 2,000 pounds.

Earlier this week, led by sophomore chairman Matt Burns, the squad supplied Fish with 3,000 pounds of food.

When asked if 3,000 pounds is among the largest one-time donations her organization receives, Fish Board of Directors member Billie Johnston exclaimed, “Heavens, yes! We are so grateful to those students for getting involved with us.”

On Jan. 9, members of the team distributed 2,000 flyers to seven Williamsburg-area neighborhoods, informing residents that they would be returning in a week to gather food and other contributions left outside. On the afternoon of the 16th, they returned to their assigned neighborhoods, then rendezvoused at William & Mary Hall to take stock of what they had.

In addition to the food, there were numerous blankets, jackets, even television sets. All of it was bagged and carted to Fish on Jan. 18.

“We feel it’s important to be able to give back to this community,” Burns said. “We’re here for a big four years of our lives, and we’re blessed enough to come here with no worries about where to get food or where to stay warm. We think it’s good to do this in a place where we’re spending four important years of our lives.”

Johnston said that statistics for 2009 showed that the organization received 3,751 “requests” for food. A request can represent one person or an entire family. Fulfilling those requests with five-day packages containing three meals per person per day, Fish figured it served 119,175 meals in 2009.

“I would say that, depending on the volume of requests we get, this donation would last about one month, maybe six weeks,” Johnston said. “The need has grown steadily over the last couple of years. People really depend on us to help them.”

Burns said the annual project takes about one month to plan. Because of preseason training, the team returns to campus from holiday break a couple of weeks earlier than the rest of the student body. The food drive is a highly satisfying way to spend some of the time not consumed by daily practice sessions.

“I think we were really surprised last year; we didn’t expect people (in the community) to be particularly generous,” Burns said. “But they were so excited to help. Considering the world today, it was very nice to see that there are still so many people that care about others and are so generous.”