Mesa athletes give families a happy Thanksgiving

When Christian Holcomb sits down to dinner today, he won’t be thinking about the spread on the table in front of him.

“I’ll say a prayer and thank God for the opportunity to help people,” the redshirt sophomore wrestler at Colorado Mesa University said.

“I’ll hope that because of this I know families that are less fortunate and have a lot of stuff going through their minds that one day instead of worrying about this or that, the small gift of a meal will make their day better. They can focus on being a family and be happy about that.”

Holcomb and Ashley Pulido, a junior pitcher on the softball team at CMU, are members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council and attended an NCAA leadership conference recently in Dallas.

Two athletes from each team at Mesa volunteer to be on SAAC, which spearheads community service projects and acts as a sounding board for the athletes with the administration.

Part of the conference was spent talking about projects that have and haven’t worked at schools.

Holcomb’s group heard of a Thanksgiving meal project and he latched onto the idea.

He and Pulido pitched the idea to Kris Mort, an associate athletic director and the SAAC advisor at Mesa, and then to the coaching staff.

It was a no-brainer. Each team donated $50 from their budget, as did the administration, athletic training and sports information department, so today, 24 families in Grand Junction will sit down to a fully cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

“I was all for it right away,” Pulido said. “It’s something pretty easy for us. It didn’t take a lot of time. When I called the elementary schools, the impression I got back was great.”

The schools made a list of families that could use some help, and at first, the thought was to purchase frozen turkeys and all the fixings for the families to cook.

As they brainstormed, Mort started to think that would just put more work on the families. Why not give them a day off from cooking?

“We decided to contact City Market,” Mort said. “I’d seen ads in the paper about fully cooked dinners.”

City Market agreed to be prepared for an additional two dozen meals, and Mort said when she went to pay for the meals earlier this week, several families had contacted the store to make arrangements to pick up dinner.

With a gift certificate for the meal tucked into a card from the athletic department came four tickets to this weekend’s Clarion Inn Thanksgiving Classic basketball tournament.

“Sports is good for kids,” said Holcomb, who is from Rangely, but his family now lives in Grand Junction. “We’re hoping maybe they will take advantage of that and have a little family experience.”

Holcomb is passionate about the project, so much so that he returned my phone call Tuesday only 20 minutes after he got out of surgery to repair a knee injury.

When I told him he didn’t need to talk to me while he was still in the recovery room, he insisted.

“No, this is important,” he said, with a pain meds caveat: “If I say something that doesn’t make sense ...”

Another CMU project under way is something just about everyone does who spends a night in a motel:

“When I walked into the bathroom, my roommate (at the conference) was putting all the soap and shampoo into her bag,” Pulido said. “She told me ‘We collect it and bring it back and give it to the homeless shelter.’

“That’s an easy way to give back. I had never thought of that at all.”

Mort got the word out to the teams, and now has a box in her office that’s quickly filling up with small bottles of shampoo and little bars of soap that the Mavs will donate to homeless shelters in Grand Junction.

Pulido, who is from Ojai, Calif., is spending Thanksgiving with friends in Denver. Today, her mind, too, will be on people she hasn’t met but has affected.

“Some of those families, what if we wouldn’t have donated anything? It’s not something you think about,” she said. “You go home and eat lunch and dinner and you don’t think about people not having that luxury.

“It’s awesome. It’s great to think about doing something that really touches people.”


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