KENT, WA - About 30 teenage boys dressed in full Sounders uniforms, hair nets, and gloves stood huddled around tables in a warehouse, shoveling scoops of beans into plastic bags.
The Sounders FC Academy teams, both in the midst of strong seasons, took a break from soccer for a few hours Thursday and went to the Northwest Harvest distribution center in Kent to volunteer their time.
“We’ve just been packing beans,” said defender Jalen Markey as he zips a full bag closed and tosses it to the growing pile, “trying to help out with everyone around who’s not experiencing the best Christmas.”
The concept started when Melinda Markey, Jalen’s mom and active volunteer, suggested it to Sounders Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky.
“We’re always looking for opportunities for our kids to help be assets to the community,” said Sawatzky, who also took part in the volunteering. “[Melinda] brought it to my attention. We’re going to do it seasonally—we’ll do it at the holidays, but we’re also going to come back and do it in the spring and summer. It’s a good opportunity for them to give something back to the community.”
Northwest Harvest is a non-profit organization that consists of 325 food banks and meal programs across the state of Washington. They provide service to about a million clients per month, in large part due to the help of volunteers.
“We definitely appreciate working with the groups, especially the Sounders boys—they were awesome today,” said Volunteer Program Assistant Shai Malone. According to her, the Kent distribution center alone has used the help of 944 individual and group volunteers this month (through 12/22). “We see an influx of volunteers around the holidays, but we need people year round. That’s what we’re here for—to serve our community with healthy, nutritious food all year long.”
What at first might have been looked at as a duty ended up being something both enjoyable and valuable to the team. Sounders FC Academy includes kids from different high schools all over the area, so any non-soccer bonding is always welcome.
They talked, laughed, and joked around constantly throughout the process, however never losing focus on the task at hand. At the end of the day, the Academy boys helped sort 5,688 lbs. of beans, which, according to Malone, equates to 5,170 food-assistance services throughout the state of Washington.
“People think it’s all community service, but it’s actually a lot of fun,” admitted Markey. “You get to help out people that usually don’t get everything they wish for.”