SAUGUS — Northeast Metro Tech football captain Andrew Petzke of Saugus never volunteered before his coach announced the team would be lending a hand at My Brother’s Table in Lynn.
“I haven’t done any volunteering before but I am going to do it again because it makes me a better person and helps someone else who is in need,” said Petzke, who joined his team in preparing, serving, and cleaning up dinner at the soup kitchen.
“(Football) is not just about the sport,” said Petzke. “It’s about teaching life lessons and making each one of us a better person. My coach, who works a lot and has a son with autism, (still) spends time with us. It is a great thing because it shows how much we all mean to each other.”
Coach Don Hemes said he’s teaching the high schoolers that being a part of the team isn’t about wins and losses.
“Football is a great game but it’s not just about playing football,” said Hemes. “We bring them together, we play football, but nobody understands what influence we have over these kids. I’m not looking to have (Division 1) athletes. Nobody here is going to the NFL. We try to make them better because they are future husbands and future dads.”
Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School has students from Chelsea, Malden, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Revere, Saugus, Stoneham, Wakefield, Winchester, Winthrop, and Woburn.
Petzke was joined by senior team members Juan Ortiz, Frank Molly, Shane Meredith, Steven Corliss, Connor Joseph, Zack Sanderson, Tyrese Louis, AJ Byrnes, Lucas Ghisolfi, Manny Portel, Sean O’Brien, and Anthony Dimasso-Scott, who spent more than four hours at the soup kitchen Monday night.
From start to finish, the football players prepared food, served clients, and cleaned up after dinner.
While Petzke said he was excited to be part of something that had a positive impact on the world around him, he didn’t expect to learn so much.
He was most surprised to learn how many volunteers give back to the community on a regular basis.
Other team members, including Meredith and Byrnes, have been volunteering at various soup kitchens and handing out personal items to those in need about three times each year.
Sharing the experience with his teammates meant a lot to Meredith.
“I think this was a great thing for every member of the team because it didn’t just bring us together but taught everyone a lot about life,” he said.
“It showed a lot of kids to not judge a book by its cover because there were kids that, before we got there, were like ‘we really have to go here?’ but by the end of the night (we) were laughing and joking with all these different people and really enjoyed it,” he said. “A couple kids even said they would want to come in the winter with my mom and I to hand out blankets and hats to the homeless.”
The reaction was what Hemes had hoped he would get from the teens going into the project.
“One of the things we talked about was, don’t look down on these people you’re helping,” said Hemes. “People don’t plan on being homeless or hungry. Things happen. You want to help out your neighbor and help out other people. I’m just trying to get these kids a little more aware of what’s going on around them.”
Additional service projects for the team are in the planning stages, including a visit to the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, and a clothing collection and distribution this fall or winter.