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Team Thanksgiving: Men’s basketball players serve Salvation Army meals

MORGANTOWN — Lt. Nicole Greenland looked around the Hope Cafe’s dining room Wednesday evening at the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner, a smile on her face.

“We set the table and we hope that they came and they’re here,” she said.

This was the Salvation Army’s first Thanksgiving meal at the Hope Cafe, which opened in May in the former Ramada Inn complex on Scott Avenue. For years, the organization held its holiday meals– and many other community feeding programs — in the cafeteria of its building in downtown Morgantown on University Avenue. The space was centrally located, but small, and quickly grew cramped during bigger events like the annual holiday meals.

“Up here it’s better because we’re able to have everybody in at once….They can sit as they like, stay a little bit longer than when we were downtown. We were kind of hurrying them to get out of the seats so other people could come and sit.”

Greenland estimated that at least 50 people came out to eat at the event, and the organization prepared to-go boxes with leftovers to hand out downtown and at low income housing in the area.

Forming a volunteer squad to help serve meals and prepare to-go boxes was West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team, fresh off an afternoon practice.

“Everybody, including the less fortunate, need some love around these times, one of the most important holidays of the year. So it’s just always important to get out and show that we care, and we care about the community that we represent.,” said sophomore forward Jalen Bridges.

“It’s something new that I learned about when I came here and I really enjoy it because it’s a moment where people can come together,” said sophomore forward Seny N’Diaye, who is originally from Senegal. “Usually people, they are busy with work and stuff. So this is a time to help people come together.” 

That sense of community with the people of Morgantown, and West Virginia more broadly, was something often repeated by players and staff Wednesday.

“One of the things that Coach Huggins talks to our guys about all the time is the people in the state of West Virginia, and what makes this state so great. It’s the people. And this is a way of our guys saying thanks,” associate head coach Larry Harrison said. “It just shows that we’re more than just basketball players. They’re human beings. They’re people. And they care.”

It’s been a while since the Mountaineer men were available to show their thanks helping with the Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army, and not just because of pandemic lockdowns last year.

“They were actually excited when they heard. Usually they’re at a Thanksgiving tournament,” said WVU assistant athletics director for student athlete development Stephanie White. 

A 7p.m. home game Friday against Eastern Kentucky ensured that the team would be in town for the first time since 2018.

“The guys we have now hadn’t had the chance to serve Thanksgiving dinner at Salvation Army. They had heard about it,” White said. “It just gives them a sense of family, it gives them a home away from home.”

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