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Serving At The Holidays

Posted Nov 22, 2011

Cards take turn at the annual "Feed The Hungry" dinner in Phoenix

Running back Alfonso Smith signs his jersey after giving it away to a disabled fan during Monday's "Feed The Hungry" event at Phoenix Rescue Mission. For a full photo gallery, click here.

The woman in the wheelchair practically screamed when Alfonso Smith pulled off his jersey and handed it to her – saying “Mine!” as she took it from him, as smiles engulfed everyone standing nearby.

Handing out such a souvenir wasn’t normally part of the plan at the annual “Feed The Hungry” holiday meal at the Phoenix Rescue Mission. But it fit the moment, especially after the running back heard that, even with the handful of players there – including star rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson – it was Smith who was the woman’s favorite Cardinal.

“It’s an honor,” Smith said. “I was happy to sign that jersey and give it to her.”

The Monday visit was more than just a jersey giveaway, or even more than just the Cardinals showing up to pass out turkey dinners, pie and lemonade.

“It’s a chance to give back,” long snapper Mike Leach said. “I know it is cliché, but we are really fortunate and blessed to do what we do. Some people have fallen upon hard times for one reason or another, and it is an opportunity for us to give back to a community that has given so much to us.”

President Michael Bidwill and his sister Nicole were among those who came out, joined by coach Ken Whisenhunt’s wife, Alice, various coaches’ wives and staff members, along with a host of players: Smith, Leach, Peterson, guard Rex Hadnot, tight end Rob Housler, kicker Jay Feely, wide receiver Chansi Stuckey, safety Hamza Abdullah, fullback Anthony Sherman and punter Dave Zastudil.

Jay Corey, the new president and CEO of Phoenix Rescue Mission, called the afternoon “awesome.”

“It shows the heart and spirit behind the team to want to come down here and serve some of the least fortunate people in the Phoenix area,” Corey said. “We are deeply grateful for the relationship.”

With the Cardinals suffering through a difficult loss Sunday in San Francisco and a 3-7 record thus far, a chance to get away from football for the afternoon and put some perspective on the season was welcome.

“When you come out and see you are working with disadvantaged families, especially when you see young kids who are homeless,” said Michael Bidwill, “you realize they are in a much more difficult situation and it is nice, especially during the holidays, to give back and hopefully encourage Cardinals fans and others to give back as well.”

There are certainly fans who know all about the Cards. One man engaged Peterson, telling the punt returner that if he was an opposing coach, he’d never punt to Peterson, drawing a laugh from Peterson.

“This is my first time ever doing something like this,” Peterson said. “It’s humbling.”

“I shouldn’t have come here hungry,” Smith said. “The food smells so good. But this is great. Everyone is happy to see us, and it feels great to be giving back.”

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