By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Bernard Sawyer has been a New York Jets fan for a long time and thinks the team has a shot at the Super Bowl this season.
So when the laid-off 56-year-old former customer service clerk showed up to grab breakfast at the Food Bank For New York City's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry of West Harlem Tuesday morning, he was worried that defensive end Jason Taylor and linebacker Bart Scott should have been resting, not serving him breakfast.
"Professional sports are hard. It's their day off so they might want to rest and spend time with their family, so its great they have taken time out of their busy schedule to be here," said Sawyer.
Scott, Taylor, and his wife, Katina, served breakfast to a few hundred people at the Food Bank and then helped unload hundreds of turkeys that will be given away for the holiday season. All said that it was a privilege to help those in need.
"I think its great, especially around the holiday season when people have such struggles," said Taylor. "We are so blessed. Giving your money is one thing. Giving your time is something different."
In New York, the problem of hunger is a growing one. Since 2003, the number of New Yorkers who have reported having a problem affording food has increased by 60 percent to 3.3 million people.
"When I go home, I can feed my family," Scott said before unloading the turkeys. "The beauty of being a professional athlete is that it gives you a voice to bring attention to issues like hunger. For me, this is a great opportunity to shine a light on the problem of hunger."
At the West Harlem location, they will serve up to 400 meals per day and the pantry will provide up to 150 families a day with food. Those numbers are up 25 percent from last year, said Lucy Cabrera, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City.
"Harlem has gentrified over the last 10 years, but we are seeing more need because of the recession," said Cabrera. "These are the people who are not out of the recession and who will be the last people out of the recession."
Those in line to get breakfast included families, grandparents with their grandchildren, and people with their work clothes on who are employed, but are having trouble getting enough food.
Because food donations are down, the group also needs money to help buy things, including the holiday turkeys it gives out.
"We want to make sure families don't have to beg or do without," said Carlos Rodriguez, a vice president for the Food Bank.
David Garner, who works at the West Harlem site, said he is consistently surprised by the amount of people who need help.
"I see how many people are hungry every day but I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it with my own eyes," he said. "We get so many people who are coming from work or who are on their way to work."
The MetLife Foundation also presented a check for $75,000 to the Food Bank For New York City.
Scott and Taylor chatted with some members of the crowd as they served food.
"You gonna beat Cincinnati?" one man asked.
"I love what you are doing," said another woman.
Helping out is great at anytime, but Scott said its even better when your team is 7-2 with one of the best records in the NFL.
"You don't get booed as much," Scott said, recalling some grumbles at the holidays last year.
He said he hoped his work would inspire New Yorkers to do the same.
"It's not so much what you give but the fact that you did give," Scott said. "If you can't give money, give your time. That's what counts."