Before the school year at Allen Community College, the athletes arrive at least two weeks ahead of the start of classes. The coaches are given a budget to feed the student-athletes. For the ACC cross country team, coach Vince DeGrado gives his budget to the outreach community of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Sue O’Connor and Donna Sifers, of the outreach community, have made time to cook and buy healthier food for the team. This is the fourth season the duo has headed up the cooking for the team. It all started when DeGrado came to his mother-in-law O’Connor.
“The coach has a budget and instead of a trying to eat pizza every night, which would run through that budget pretty fast, we do the cooking for him,” Sifers said.
BEFORE team members make their way to the school, the ladies take a day off and go to Costco in Kansas City to load up on food. Customers can buy food in bulk at Costco, so it helps the women stay within the budget.
“We had my car filled to the gills,” Sifers said. “There was hardly any room for us to sit in there.”
O’Connor said that the team gets three meals a day until school starts. Tomorrow is the last day that the team will get the pair’s cooked meals because classes at Allen start on Monday.
Not all of the food is bought through the budget. The ladies said members of the church donate up to 25 percent of the total amount of food that the team goes through. One member even donated a grill. Previously, O’Connor said that they would have to drag one up to the church’s porch. All the cooking is done in a kitchen in the back of the church.
“Our members donate a lot of it,” O’Connor said. “We’ve had cantaloupe, zucchini, tomato, watermelon, all the desserts are donated and all the cookies for lunch are donated.”
DeGrado wanted the team — made up of 12 members — to eat healthier, that’s why he wanted his mother-in-law to help cook.
“He was concerned about getting the kids fed with healthy food,” Sifers said. “Plus, the money that the college allocated for that would have really stretched him pretty tight to feed the kids three meals a day.”
O’Connor and Sifers both said a group of 10 members of the church, including themselves, help cook every night. They switch around every night, but O’Connor and Sifers are usually at the kitchen every day. According to O’Connor, they like to stay at least two days ahead in the cooking, just in case extra kids come.
LAST WINTER, O’Connor said that DeGrado gave her number to the ACC basketball teams, both men and women. That was a challenge for the ladies because the teams had 46 student-athletes combined.
“We are a very small congregation and trying to do three meals a day for 46 kids plus their coaches, stretched us thin,” Sifers said.
The church also helps feed about 80 kids as part of a backpack program. The Kansas Food Bank donates food, while the church donates the protein. On Aug. 23, the church is hosting a block party for the kids.
“To help us out, the cross country team will turn around and help us at the block party,” O’Connor said. “They will help with the games, help setup, help clean up. It’s kind of a give and take. We’ve developed such a close relationship with these kids.”
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