With Joe Judge's "team of teams" initiative, groups of players and coaches were tasked with finding a way to help the New York/New Jersey community. In a year like this, the Giants were left with many possibilities on how to go about achieving this goal.
For tight end Evan Engram, his team of 12 players and coaches decided to focus on poverty and hunger, criminal justice and addiction support services. Engram's team partnered with Eva's Village, a non-profit, comprehensive behavioral health and social service organization whose mission is to provide care and support for people struggling with poverty, hunger, homelessness and addiction.
"Basically, what we're doing is providing care and support for people who are struggling with homelessness, hunger, with poverty, addiction, lack of job readiness," said Marie Caliendo, Director of Philanthropy at Eva's Village. "We serve typically about 5,000 people each year. Really our model is to create connections with people. Usually for us, that means they start eating in our community kitchen...
"It's important to serve people. It's important to treat people with dignity. Every human being deserves that dignity of being seen and looked at. What we find is that creating that connection very often helps people to trust us enough to take those next steps."
For Engram and his team, no organization fit with what they were looking to do more than Eva's Village.
"As soon as I was introduced to Eva's Village and the initiative they take in the community of Paterson, it was honestly a no-brainer," Engram said on a call with Victor Cruz and representatives from Eva's Village. "Us as a team, we came up with this idea when the world was really going crazy. Social justice issues, there's always hunger issues. There are a lot of things in our community that we as a football team and we as athletes can make an impact in.
"When I learned about Eva's Village and their impact with social justice, feeding the hungry and their helping people with mental health, this was an opportunity that we couldn't pass up to get involved with."
Caliendo and Angela Broxton-Terry, Director of Outpatient Substance Abuse Counseling Services & Criminal Justice Services Coordinator at Eva's Village, helped teach Engram and his group about some very important topics. The group learned about the history of Paterson in order to comprehend why the organization serves such a vital role to the community. Caliendo and Broxon-Terry also shed some light on Eva's feeding ministry and culinary arts training program and the challenges it faces during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as on addiction and the needs of its clients in substance abuse treatment programs.
It was after learning about these important issues that Engram and his "team of teams" chose how they would make a positive impact on the Paterson community.
The group created a matching fund on GoFundMe to support Eva's feeding ministry. With COVID-19 surging this fall, food insecurity is increasing in the Paterson community. Many families were left with the decision of paying rent or being able to afford food, as the pandemic has spiked unemployment rates among those who are most vulnerable to infection. In fact, food insecurity is predicted to increase by 56 percent in New Jersey due to COVID-19.
For every $50 donated to this GoFundMe, 25 people are fed meals that they otherwise would not be able to afford. With the Giants matching each donation, a $50 donation would help feed 50 people (DONATE HERE).
"COVID is really giving Eva's Village a really hard time because they're such a personal organization," Engram said. "A lot of the work is done in person and hands on, and COVID has put a lot of restrictions on that. … I think donating right now is the biggest way to help because it's going to help them feed the hungry. It's going to help them keep things operational.
"Right now, everything is kind of remote through Zoom, and that's kind of how our mentorship is going to be done. But donating right now is the biggest help because it's going to help Eva's Village keep it going and keep their efforts up."
After setting the initial goal at $10,000, the group was able to surpass that mark with plenty of time to spare. Even San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle got involved, as he and his wife, Claire, contributed $3,000 to the GoFundMe. Many Giants employees also contributed to the fund as a way to come together to support the community in advance of Thanksgiving. Now - with just about six weeks to go until the end of the regular season - the new goal is set at $13,000.
On top of the GoFundMe campaign, Engram and his group were also paired with a mentee from Eva's Substance Abuse and Criminal Justice counseling program. Every week, each team member connects with their mentee who is working to recover from substance abuse use and incarceration to start a new direction in their lives. These relationships have proven to be a positive experience for both the Giants player and the mentee, as they encourage each other to continue striving to achieve their goals.
"I just believe that it's important to educate people on the struggles and anything that a person goes through in regards to the disease of addiction because knowledge is power," Broxton-Terry said. "Once you gain insight and understanding into what the disease of addiction is, first of all as being a brain disease, as well as the struggles, and understand that individuals are not bad people. They just learn to cope in an unhealthy manner, which resulted in using drugs as well as criminal involvement and treatment programs.
"I just think once a person understands what they're dealing with, the individual, it just decreases the myths and banishes the ignorance. Their eyes are open."
Engram and his teammates agree, and their experiences with their mentees have been a blessing for everyone involved. "We talked a lot when we first got together with Eva's Village about a plan that can help their clients, and the biggest thing we came up with was a mentee and mentor program – putting people in these clients' corner and giving them support," said Engram. "Honestly, the way that this program is going, they are giving us support as well. I know personally, my mentee, he's 21 years old, he's been through a lot, but he's a really smart young man. He's given me a lot of perspective, and I've talked to other teammates in our group who have had two or three hour conversations connecting with their mentee and learning things, and just being in their corner. This program has been a blessing. All people on all sides are learning and gaining something. We are all just putting together a lot of good that can come together in the community of Paterson."
Even though this program was planned to go on for just the season, Engram sees a lasting impact.
"I think we are just really humbled and really appreciative of these relationships," the tight end said. "This program might just be a thing for this season, but I know that I have a friend for a long time. Being able to have an impact on somebody's life that is heading in the right direction and that is motivated to make the right decisions, and to learn from their past, and to have a positive impact on the world. Being a part of that, being a spark for that, is honestly one of the biggest blessing that I can talk about, so I'm very appreciative."
In a little over a week, on December 8th, Eva's Village will be hosting its annual Benefit Gala. Just like almost everything else in 2020, this year's Gala will be done virtually - but its purpose remains the same - to help raise funds as the organization assists those who could use a boost.
This year's Virtual Gala will honor the New York Football Giants for the three decades of service and support for Eva's Community Kitchen. The Giants hope that this entire year of partnership has allowed them to honor the incredible daily efforts of the staff at Eva's Village, who dedicate each and every day to the betterment and care of their neighbors.