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Serving up Smiles

For the second year in a row, the West Virginia women’s basketball team partnered with the Salvation Army to help serve a holiday meal at the University Avenue social service center.

The student athletes were on hand at 4 p.m. Monday evening to serve out salad, potatoes, corn and of course turkey with gravy to Morgantown community members in need.

“We are trying to be as involved in our local community as possible,” said assistant director of basketball operations Ayana Dunning. “It’s really important for us to give back to the community that supports us so much.”

The team also put together and distributed some 200 gift bags that included essentials such as wipes, toothbrushes, socks, and gloves.

“We had an assembly line, so it helps when you have 11 girls on the team and I can just split them up,” Dunning said.

One client, who identified himself only as Ed, said the daily meals at Salvation Army were something he had come to count on.

“The holiday meal is always better,” Ed said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but what’s given is appreciated.”

“Normally when we have these things, we don’t tell them,” said Salvation Army Lt. Nicole Greenland. “It’s a surprise for our clients.”

Last year, the team took part in the Salvation Army’s regularly scheduled holiday dinner on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year their service was moved up to Monday because travel will keep them away during the holiday.

The WVU women’s basketball team lands in Cancun today to take part in the Cancun Challenge Riviera Tournament. Going into the tournament undefeated at 4-0, they will face off against Creighton on Thanksgiving Day and the University of New Mexico on Friday.

Even with travel less than 12 hours away, these Mountaineers stayed focus on the task at hand. Many players took the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences.

“This is a good way to appreciate what we’re about to do,” said guard Kysre Gondrezick. “Basketball can take us so many places. It’s important for us to take a time out and give back.”

Gondrezick’s teammates echoed her sentiment.

“Not everybody can be as blessed as I am, being able to go to college for free,” said forward Kari Niblack.

Meditations aside, the ball players did seem to enjoy themselves. At one point, a small dance-off broke out between a few players and some clients.

“Doing it with my team makes it fun,” Niblack said. “You’re doing it from the kindness of your heart, but doing it with them makes it fun.”

Greenland estimated that around 120 meals were served on Monday night. Although that number is down from last year’s event, Lt. Greenland attributes it to the day of the week.

“It was very successful,” she said. “I think the second time around, now it has become a tradition.”

The Salvation Army is always looking for more volunteers, and those hoping to emulate the women’s basketball team can call (304) 296-3525.