Cardinals partner with State Farm to provide holiday meals to 500 selected families in TUHSD

Former Arizona Cardinals lineman Allen DeGraffenreid loads a box of food during a drive-through holiday distribution sponsored by the team and State Farm for selected families in the Tempe Union High School District. – photos by Lee Shappell

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Life can deal people unexpected downturns. And it does it without regard for the time of year. Although there is no particularly great time to be down on your luck, the holidays are a particularly bad time.

While people, for whatever reason, are suffering, big corporations often appear to go chugging along, seemingly soulless and oblivious, on their fast tracks.

Sonya Robinson

Two notable Tempe exceptions, however — the Arizona Cardinals and insurance giant State Farm — took stock of the community this month and then took action by lending a hand to families in need for the holidays.

The Cardinals, whose training facility is at Warner and Hardy in South Tempe, and State Farm, with a sprawling corporate hub on the southern shore of Tempe Town Lake, teamed on a Saturday morning to provide 8,000 meals to 500 families in the Tempe Union High School District community for the holiday season.

“It’s just in the spirit of giving,” said Sonya Robinson, State Farm area vice president. “Most important, we’re helping people recover from the unexpected in their time of need. We know that this year, particularly, because of COVID we find opportunity to connect with people who have needs .”

Food was distributed during a contactless drive-through at TUHSD’s Compadre Academy in South Tempe.

“To see the children in the cars as they come through, you feel so warm knowing that we’re doing something to help people feel a little bit better for a couple of days through the holiday season,” Robinson said.

Volunteers from the Cardinals, Valley NFL alumni and various departments from State Farm and their children turned out to load food boxes and milk containers into recipients’ vehicles.

Dr. Ray Perkins, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and now an administrator at Tolleson High, loads milk at the food distribution drive-through.

Dr. Ray Perkins, vice principal at Tolleson High School and an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University, has been in education for 33 years since his playing days with the Dallas Cowboys. Among his duties is being a role model for students and coaches. He was among those volunteering onsite.

“Our NFL alumni do a lot of charity functions in the community. This is the season to give back,” Perkins said. “If you want to serve other people, this is an opportunity to serve other people by making sure we feed families in need.

“You know, with COVID creating a financial need along with associated mental-health issues, our community is hurting. We want to make sure we’re serving and no one this holiday season is hurting. We try to do our little part.”

Lord Byran DeGraffenreid, a former Kansas City Chiefs player, who lives in suburban Detroit, was visiting his brother, Allen DeGraffenreid, a former Cardinals lineman. The DeGraffenreid brothers and Allen’s children turned out to help load food into vehicles.

“We’re just trying our best to provide a service to those who need a helping hand at this particular time,” Lord Byran DeGraffenreid said. “It’s a wonderful experience. I’m glad Allen got me out here and that he is getting my nephews and my niece out here to get involved. It’s all about giving back and service. That’s what we try to preach to our kids, not just by telling them, but showing them by example.”

Food was distributed to 130 Marcos de Niza High School families, 122 from Tempe High, 120 from McClintock, 56 from Mountain Pointe, 29 from Corona del Sol and 27 from Desert Vista.

Cardinals and State Farm employees and their families volunteered on a Saturday morning to make the holidays brighter for 500 selected families in the Tempe Union High School District.

The meals were prepared by Craft Culinary Concepts at State Farm Stadium in Glendale and transported in a semi-trailer to Tempe.

Among the dinners, according to Denise Dewald of Culinary Concepts, were fajitas with rice and beans, barbecue chicken with potatoes and carrots, cheese ravioli with meat balls, broccoli and Brussel sprouts. Orange slices, watermelon, bread sticks, dinners rolls, cornbread and tortillas also were included.

“They’re all microwaveable  Dewald said. “We’re just hoping to lighten their load so they don’t have to cook dinner, which will help them do other things. We’re very excited to help.”

Dave Huffine

Dave Huffine, Tempe Union director of athletics and activities, said the Cardinals, in conjunction with State Farm, reached out to the school district to identify 500 families that are in need this holiday season. CARE 7 specialists and members of the school district’s intervention teams at each school site assisted in identifying students.

“We couldn’t be more happy to accommodate them because we’ve got families that are really going to benefit,” Huffine said. “These families are able to take this home and have probably a week’s worth of food.

“This couldn’t come at a better time, either.”

Allen DeGraffenreid, a retired Cardinals player, and his sons await the next vehicle through the food-distribution line at Compadre Academy in South Tempe.


Lee Shappell
Lee Shappell became a journalist because he didn’t become a rocket scientist! He exhausted the math courses available by his junior year in high school and earned early admission to Rice University, intending to take advantage of its relationship with the Johnson Space Center and become an aerospace engineer. But as a high school senior, needing a class to be eligible for sports with no more math available, he took student newspaper as a credit and was hooked. He studied journalism at the UofA and has been senior reporter, copy desk chief and managing editor at several Valley publications.



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