HARTFORD – A few blocks from the XL Center, where the UConn men play many of their home games, including Tuesday night against Loyola, the harsh reality of life for many in the city is so evident.
The Huskies arrived at the St. Elizabeth House on Main Street about 4:30 p.m. on Monday night to show the residents there, previously homeless people trying to turn their lives around, they care.
“We’re just trying to put some hope in some people’s lives,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “Give them a happy Thanksgiving and put a smile on their faces. I see my guys smiling and interacting. You think you’re giving a gift, but you’re getting the gift when you give away like this.”
At. St. Elizabeth House, there are 44 single rooms where people can stay up to two years as they address the issues that caused them to become homeless. The players brought non-perishable food, and also helped prepare and serve a hot meal. Then they played bingo with the residents, a way of encouraging social skills.
The players brought non-perishable food in dozens of bags, and they bagged candy for the children involved. They helped prepare a hot meal and served it in the dining room. Then came, perhaps, the most important part: the players joined the residents for a bingo game.
Part of the recovery process is to encourage social skills, so the interaction, the time spent talking, probably meant more than the food.
“This is what they come to UConn for, it’s not just basketball, it’s a community,” Ollie said.
Ollie has a deep concern for the poverty in Hartford. UConn is working with the City and various agencies to identify 50 of the neediest families, and in mid-December, the Huskies will visit five with Christmas trees and dinners, and will distribute trees and food to 45 others.
“Hartford has been so good to us,” Ollie said, “and not just Hartford but the surrounding communities, but Hartford is one of the places I’ve picked because of the poverty level here – 32 percent, and 44 percent among children. That’s bad. We need to make a difference; we need to make a change.”
Jim Calhoun’s annual holiday food drive in the city will also go on as always, on Dec. 16.