Tae Davis just wanted to be home.
As news about the COVID-19 pandemic assimilated across the country, Davis — like so many other Americans — thought about family first. The virus, which has infected over 2.5 million people in the country and killed over 125,000 U.S. citizens, has altered daily lifestyles and taken an economic toll on millions of people. By the end of March, nearly everyone in the country was cautioned against leaving their homes, and elderly people, most vulnerable to the fatal symptoms of the virus, were advised to limit contact with the public as much as possible.
Davis was preparing for his third NFL season in Illinois when the lockdown orders were issued. His mom and siblings in Oxford, Alabama, were making semi-weekly trips to his grandmother, Vivian, who lived 15 minutes away and couldn't make her routine trips to the grocery store.
Davis, who had a close relationship with his grandma before he left the state for college football at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, wanted to help, too. But there was only so much he could do hundreds of miles away, unable to travel back home. All he could do was make daily phone calls.
"She was telling me how she's happy that she has family back home," Davis said. "It wasn't far for her and it was pretty easy to get back and forth and get things as they needed. It wasn't bad for her."
Members of the Adapted Football League received their jerseys in preparation for the season at Camp Cheerful Saturday morning
For many other elderly people, however, such arrangements have not been as easy during the difficult times. Davis thought of those people when he saw a picture on Twitter of an elderly lady staring at mostly empty shelves. She had little food and no toilet paper.
"That could've been my grandmother," he thought.
So, Davis decided to take action. He donated 500 meals in April to Meals on Wheels America, a non-profit program created to help seniors meet nutritional and social needs, and assist elderly people who might not be as lucky to have the assistance of family and friends.
"Once I saw what COVID was and how it affected the country, I knew I wanted to help somewhere," Davis said. "I started thinking about those who were maybe less fortunate in terms of having someone close to them who is younger, and as soon as I heard about Meals on Wheels, it was a no-brainer."
Davis' donation went toward a special grant Meals on Wheels created specifically for COVID-19. He wanted his donation to focus specifically on areas impacted most by the pandemic and left it up to Meals on Wheels to determine how his meals would be distributed to people in need.
Ally Redig, a manager for Athlete Relations who has worked with Davis, was one of the first people Davis called when he decided to make a contribution. The two had discussed ways he could make sizable donations to other causes before the pandemic struck, and the life-changing reaches of the virus offered several charitable avenues for Davis to take.
"It was the most important thing that he's probably called me about to date," Redig said. "He had such an emotional tie to it, and obviously not being able to be there for his family physically just hit home for him. This was his way of really being able to help other people that didn't have the same monetary value of being able to donate, but they couldn't be there with their actual family members."
Davis' donation was a small, but crucial step in helping Meals on Wheels hit a landmark $20 million is nationwide grants to the organization's local providers, which are spread out over 5,000 different programs across the country.
The organization was a nationwide leader in assisting elderly people before the pandemic began. Now, with many people still unable to shop for food without undertaking some level of risk to the virus, large donations carry an even more important meaning.
"He stepped in and supported vulnerable populations when they needed it most," said Kristine Templin, the Chief Development Officer of Meals on Wheels America. "He did so in a very humble way. He wasn't looking for press, for us to promote it or for us to do a press release that talked about it. I think that for him to be able to step up in a generous way and to support a population that typically is somewhat ignored, I think it says a lot about who he is, and I admire that."
For Davis, the donation was an easy choice. Even though he couldn't be physically present at home to assist his grandmother, his contribution ensured that elderly people facing the same problems could have what they needed to stay healthy.
"I wouldn't want my grandmother or anyone of age out fending for themselves in that," he said. "I've always found myself trying to help people or really be there for others, and I just always told myself that if I was in a position to be able to help more, then I would do that. I just figured this would be a good opportunity to help those in need."