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Hakeem Nicks' New Program Gives Kids Backpacks Filled with Healthy Foods

By Jeff Mays | December 13, 2012 11:45am

HARLEM — As the New York Giants' star receiver Hakeem Nicks lined up to race kids from an after-school program at Union Settlement in East Harlem, he flashed the thumbs-up sign.

Smiles filled the room.

But Nicks, who was there Tuesday to promote a new program that will give at-risk kids backpacks filled with nutritious food to eat during weekends, knows that a healthy lifestyle often takes more than fun and games.

"Access to healthy foods and staying active are critical to helping children thrive,” said Nicks, who launched the charity Helping Hands earlier this year.

His group, together with UnitedHealthcare and the Food Bank For New York City, will distribute more than 150 backpacks to children at Union Settlement and a school in Newark on alternate Fridays.

Nicks, who is known for his unusually large hands that help him catch passes from Giants quarterback Eli Manning, called good nutrition “a key component to an athlete’s ability to compete.”

But not all kids start out on an even playing field.

One out of every five children in New York City relies on emergency food programs such as soup kitchens and food pantries to provide much-needed food, according to the Food Bank for New York City.

Nicks' backpack initiative will give kids access to food on weekends and during school breaks, when free or reduced school lunches are not available.

"It fills an enormous need," said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank For New York City.

Union Settlement's Executive Director David Nocenti agreed.

“Our kids are committed to living healthy and this program is a great first step,” Nocenti said.

Nicks said he has plans to distribute even more backpacks next year to reach even more hungry children.

“We look forward to expanding this program to include nutrition education and physical activity to help children develop a lifelong commitment to health by staying active and making healthy food choices," said Bill Golden, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of New York.