JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As one of the shelters that’s expected to stay open the longest, the Bob Hayes Sports Complex and Legends Center needs plenty of food and supplies.
Tuesday evening’s delivery of water, clothing, shoes and food was a cooperative effort of the Florida Air National Guard from Jacksonville and Tampa, the Harris County Houston Sports Authority and Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars.
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Fournette’s experience of his trials living through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans inspired him to show up Tuesday night to hand out supplies, take some pictures, sign autographs and offer hope. He has said that staying on a bridge for five days made him tougher. It’s the message he had for those in the shelter tonight.
“Any situation you go through defines your character,” he said while handing out water and supplies. “It’s going to make a lot of people stronger at the end of the day.”
Getting back from Houston on Tuesday morning, the Jaguars had the rest of the day off before preparing for Tennessee this Sunday at home. But Fournette was anxious to help.
“It’s not hard at all. I jumped out of my bed, it’s our off day, so why not?” he explained. “ I wish somebody would have done this for us when I was a kid.”
And if you think his appearance was just for show, Fournette had the interest, and the empathy for those at the shelter that can only come from somebody who’s been there. It was real.
“I wanted to give back. Something that comes naturally for me, I wanted to give back to the community, a lot of people are going through hard times right now.”
And if you listen to Fournette talk about the platform he has as an NFL player, you realize this won’t be the last time he steps up and tries to have an impact.
“I want to be a difference maker in the world,” he said. “With everything that’s going on with this generation it’s a crazy time but I want to be a difference maker.”
Fournette called Sunday an emotional time for Houston and their fans but it was also emotional for the Jaguars leaving before Hurricane Irma hit. He lauded his teammates for practicing hard and staying focused and called the victory over the Texans a “great team win.”
If the goal was to quiet NRG Stadium last Sunday after the initial burst of emotion Fournette said the goal this week at home, “is to be loud and stay loud.”
Doing a lot of the heavy lifting delivering supplies, airmen formed a sort of “conga line” from the truck to inside the shelter.
“We all got activated, so when you get to do the state mission, you’re pretty excited,” said Lt. Col. Scott McGuire from the Florida Air National Guard.
“I haven’t been called to do anything since 2004 so it’s pretty amazing to get a chance to do something like this. With people coming into the shelters and going through this kind of devastation it’s great to be able to help.”
Leading a team of co-workers and coming in last Monday Holly Kesterson of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority said they wanted to help right away.
“We obviously just went through Harvey. We were fortunate to get so many supplies, food, clothing from so many places. Florida was one of those. They reached out to us right away We were able to come and help out so we’re glad to be here to help.
Working along the JSO officers and the Air National Guardsmen Kesterson said it good to see so many groups working together.
“They’re the best, they’re the elite,” she explained. “Since this is the last long term shelter, they’re getting the job done right now.”
And as far as her hometown of Houston? Kesterson was upbeat.
“It’s a long path getting everybody on their feet but we’re rallying and we’re coming back.”
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