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Feeding Their Souls

Field hockey team gives up home game to help needy

The Neumann field hockey team served food at a soup kitchen in October. SUBMITTED BY SARAH KURPEL

Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania, emphasizes five values for its student body: reverence, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship. And when the field hockey team sacrificed a home game to take part in what would be an eye-opening experience, all five were on display.

The team had hoped to join their former captain, 2015 Neumann graduate Jillian DeFina, for a day of helping others. After graduation, DeFina joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for a year of service, working at the St. Francis of Assisi soup kitchen in Scranton, Pennsylvania, for only $100 a month.

“A big piece of our institute is character development,” coach Sarah Kurpel says. “We want to take kids to diverse environments to serve, run the span of the socioeconomic sphere and get involved, and believed joining Jill for a day at her soup kitchen would provide an opportunity for service and growth.”

The team had to clear one hurdle before reuniting with its former student leader: scheduling. The women were set to play Marywood University, a conference rival, in a home game. However, Marywood is located in Scranton, the location of DeFina’s soup kitchen. Kurpel called her conference rival and asked to give up home-field advantage so her team could take part in the service project, and Marywood agreed.

On Oct. 10, the team reunited with DeFina to serve food, fill orders and interact with the clients. The kitchen is open to anyone, but the visitors typically include mentally disabled, homeless people and struggling military veterans. What made the team’s volunteer day unique was that the area’s school district was on strike, so many students who were unable to receive a free lunch at school made their way to the soup kitchen.

The girls took turns serving food on the line. Others were in the pantry, filling orders and stocking the shelves. All had the opportunity to socialize and interact with the clients.

Junior Becky Guinto was serving pretzels when she realized the difference her team was making. “It was definitely a step-back moment,” Guinto says. “Seeing their joy to just receive food provided a lot of perspective.”

For that one day, the team was able to provide comfort to those in need while learning more about the harsh realities of life in poverty. Neumann’s presence in the community already was strong, but the day allowed them to reunite with and support the work of a former teammate – one they call a “role model to all.”

“At the end of the day you may not remember your stats, but you’ll always remember your team and the difference you can make to those less fortunate and marginalized,” DeFina says.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.