The Spirit of Giving

Nov. 1, 2017

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by Lauren Shear

Tracy Coyne remembers her first Colonial Harvest. After being named head coach of the lacrosse program at the start of the 2014-15 season, she was ready to tackle all of the challenges most coaches face when they first take the reigns of a new team.

Then, she learned about Colonial Harvest.

An annual Thanksgiving basket collection, Colonial Harvest provides food and toiletries to local families in need during the holidays. Started two years before she came to GW, Coyne was excited to see what the response to the food drive would be from the GW community.

Although her first Colonial Harvest was a success, Coyne remembers thinking how there was room for improvement.

“I came away from that first experience thinking with a little more effort we could tap into this great concept and make it even better,” said Coyne. “So I began to network within the Foggy Bottom community to understand how a Thanksgiving food drive operates. What I learned was astounding. There is so much good happening in our local community to service those who are having a hard time making ends meet.”

Senior goalkeeper Adele Wise shared similar feelings that first year when she was a freshman.

“My freshman year, Colonial Harvest was a collection of goods by the lacrosse team that seemed more like a business operation than a charity project,” said Wise. “I remember signing up for times on the drop off date and collecting the donations, but nothing further.”

Knowing Colonial Harvest could be more impactful, Coyne decided to use what she learned that first year as a springboard for today’s version.

“To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing that first year, so I relied on the expertise of others to guide me in the best ways to improve Colonial Harvest,” said Coyne. “One of the first things we did after the first year was to give the collection a name. Now when we refer to the food drive as Colonial Harvest, there is instant recognition on the part of the athletic department community. One thing was certain, the collection needed to become more multi-cultural.”

Coyne’s true inspiration for revamping Colonial Harvest came on one Sunday afternoon when she missed her usual Sunday Mass and decided to attend an entirely Spanish service at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia instead.

“Attending Mass that day was truly uplifting; even though I didn’t understand a word of what I witnessed, it was a generosity of the heart/spirit by the congregation that was inspiring,” said Coyne. “During the collection, people were placing crumbled up one or five dollar bills in the basket. Everyone was just emptying his or her pockets to make a donation. The collection basket was overflowing, so much so that halfway down the aisle, the usher had to empty it and come back to finish.”

After witnessing the true spirit of giving, Coyne knew that the team couldn’t just collect the Thanksgiving baskets. Instead, the team would go out into the community to deliver the baskets themselves to truly understand the impact they were having on the community.

“It’s hard to describe the impact delivering the baskets had on us,” said Coyne. “I had never witnessed that kind of poverty first hand. For me, it was something I heard about but thought it was in a far off neighborhood. Knowing I drove by these people, who were essentially my neighbors every day on my way to work but had no awareness of their need, deeply moved me. All of us, every member of the team, received such a warm welcome from each family. Even though there was a language barrier, it was easy to see the appreciation on their faces.”

With this new sense of purpose and passion, the lacrosse team began to rally around ways to improve and expand Colonial Harvest. The squad started by reaching out to all teams and departments in Athletics before widening the scope to include the entire university. Last year, the team had the idea to donate to The Store, GW’s own food pantry for students.

“Since my freshman year, we have taken on so many promotional events to reach more people and make the food drive a project that the whole Athletics Department can feel a part of,” said Wise. “My sophomore year we started doing the food drop offs ourselves, and that made the whole experience significantly more meaningful.”

This year, the lacrosse team has even bigger goals in mind.

“The team is amazing,” said Coyne. “Their willingness to devote time and energy to make this project a success truly represents what is special about GW student-athletes. No matter what we ask them to do, the response is always yes. It’s not just yes; it’s done with a smile. Last year during the delivery, we were stopped by people on the street asking us if we had any extra food. We were taken aback by those requests. We didn’t know how to respond. It’s humbling to be in a position where you can’t help everyone who asks. That experience gave us the motivation to make Colonial Harvest even better. Our goal is to feed 50 families – including buying 50 turkeys - which is almost double the number of families we fed in 2016. What I am hoping is that this year, if anyone stops on the street to ask us for food, we will be able to answer yes. Yes, we have a basket of food for you.”

For every player on the lacrosse team, Colonial Harvest holds a different meaning. For Wise, knowing what Colonial Harvest was just three years ago, it means even more.

“Colonial Harvest is an opportunity to give others what we have been lucky enough to have our entire lives,” said Wise. “Giving families the chance to focus on something other than where their next meal will come from is a gift that never loses value. Colonial Harvest is a type of food drive that anyone can donate to, whether it is a small or large monetary donation, a few cans of food, or a whole basket for a family. No matter the donation, our whole community is coming together to give back to those around us who truly need it this year.”

As in years past, the Colonials will be collecting laundry baskets filled with non-perishable food items including typical Thanksgiving staples like canned vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, stuffing mix, and cranberry sauce, as well as toiletries such as soap, diapers, shampoo, and toilet paper.

Baskets and monetary donations will be collected in the lobby of the Charles E. Smith Center on Friday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Players will also be collecting donations at the men’s basketball game on Nov. 4 at 2:00 p.m.

The team will then hand deliver the Thanksgiving baskets to those in the community on Nov. 5.

“This year, I feel especially good,” said Coyne. “We have more name recognition and people are expecting it. Everyone wants to help and everyone wants to support. We’ve taken on more as a team and even more as an Athletics Department. This is how we do it and this is who we are. Colonial Harvest is just different this year – there’s a vibe of generosity and everyone is invested in making it a success.”



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