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Cowboys alumni get back in the saddle to serve Salvation Army

With the holiday season right around the corner, the Dallas Cowboys alumni group was out assisting at the Salvation Army to help provide meals for families.
Credit: AP
Salvation Army volunteer Herbert J. Starnes rings the bell as he helps greet fans outside Cowboys Stadium before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)

DALLAS — The current Dallas Cowboys have to be extra careful with their social distancing in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that they were unable to participate in their annual Thanksgiving community outreach events with the Salvation Army.

Coming to their aid was none other than seven Cowboys alumni split up across two service sites in Dallas and Fort Worth.

On Tuesday morning, Darren Woodson, Charles Haley, Tony Casillas, and George Teague gave away meals that could feed a family of five to six at the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center in Dallas.

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Later that afternoon, James Whalen, Dat Nguyen, and Raghib "Rocket" Ismail handed out meals to underserved members of the Fort Worth community at the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Social Service Center.

“We couldn’t be more thankful to the Dallas Cowboys for keeping up their annual tradition of serving those in need before the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Major Bethany Hawks, the area commander for The Salvation Army of North Texas. “It’s an honor to serve side by side with the players and support our neighbors with a hot meal during the holiday season.”

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Cowboys executive vice president and chief brand officer Charlotte Jones Anderson saw the event as another example of the Salvation Army "always there in the clutch times" for families and individuals, regardless of the state of the world.

"I think that's where they do their best work, not just natural disasters, like hurricanes and tornadoes and pandemics, but the everyday disaster that is homelessness and trying to put food on your table for your family after job loss and insecurity and addiction," Anderson said. "They're there. And it's magnified today because of the pandemic. You see people in line getting turkeys that were giving out turkeys this time last year. It's sad to see that transition of so many people in need, but it just shows you that the Salvation Army, they can adapt."

Nguyen, who played linebacker for the Cowboys from 1999-2005, was appreciative to be a part of a tradition he partook as a player.

"The Salvation Army does an unbelievable job and I've been a big supporter of the Salvation Army and how much they do and what they do and we're just thankful the Cowboys give us an opportunity as past players, former players to do this because we don't get to do this often," said Nguyen. "And when we get to do this, it's rewarding and puts smiles on people's faces and impacts people in so many ways."

For Woodson, helping the Salvation Army in any capacity is personal, not just because of his association with the Cowboys as the club's all-time leader in tackles and three-time Super Bowl champion, but because of how the Salvation Army helped him as a child.

"Every year it's been a situation where I have wanted to come back and give back, because when I was a kid growing up, the Salvation Army was always there for me," said Woodson. "I was an inner-city kid, grew up in the projects of Phoenix, Arizona, and I can remember walking to the Salvation Army, which was directly across the street from the projects, and they were there to serve me and serve my family. So, it's always been — the Salvation Army has always been a part of my makeup and I've always felt like if there's anything I can do to give back, because they gave so much to myself and my community in which I grew up, that's the reason why I'm here."

The Salvation Army has been helping families all across North Texas the same way they helped Woodson as a boy in Phoenix. Since March, the Salvation Army has distributed over four million pounds of food through 13 drive-through grocery service locations in Collin, Denton, Ellis, Dallas, and Tarrant Counties.

The food for Tuesday's events was provided by Albertsons and Tom Thumb.

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“We couldn’t be more thankful to our partners for raising awareness about the services available to families that are making tough financial decisions caused by the pandemic,” said Major Todd Hawks, another area commander for The Salvation Army of North Texas. “We continue to see families seeking assistance for the first time with groceries, rent/mortgage, utilities, prescription medication and emotional and spiritual care.”

Anderson was excited to see "old-time family members" in the former players helping out at the events.

"With these guys, we were doing the same thing 20 years ago, and that's what's great is to see the evolution of two decades later, they're willing to come out and give, still partnering with this organization, the Salvation Army, having great sponsors like Albertsons and Tom Thumb and people just don't stop," said Anderson. 'And it's an incredible tradition and we're honored to be a part of it."

For more on the Dallas Cowboys, check in with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.