CLEVELAND — When he was a sophomore in high school, Tracy Howard followed the lead of his grandmother and brother in feeding South Florida's homeless every Sunday.
"We had this big kitchen that we used to go and we used to go in there and cook all the food on a big huge stove, used to pack like 200 plates and put it in the back of the truck and they would line up because they already knew it was coming," the Miami native and Browns rookie defensive back said.
"It was like a routine: kids, adults all ages. And you see that, and it's kind of messes with you a little bit because there's a lot of people out there in need, you see little kids miss meals and things like that, so that always touched my heart."
Howard, his teammates and countless members of the Browns organization joined the Greater Cleveland Food Bank on Tuesday to prepare Thanksgiving meals and package food items to be sent to local shelters, food pantries and food sites throughout Northeast Ohio.
The gathering — which also included Browns alumni and members of the Browns Women's Organization — is one of many jointly hosted events by the Browns and Greater Cleveland Food Bank as the groups help fight hunger and ensure families have access to nutritious meals throughout the year, particularly during high times of need like the winter holidays.
"We are thrilled and so grateful. The fact is, we really need volunteers — not just at the holidays — but year round," president and CEO Kristin Warzocha said. "We also need financial donations to make this happen. Every dollar donated is enough for us to make four meals and the Browns do that as well. This is a critical time of year for the food bank and the clients we serve and it can be a tough time for people in need. So seeing the Browns step up and make contributions like this is incredibly meaningful."
"Whenever you get a chance to go into the communities and help the community, I'm always all for it," third-year linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "The Browns organization has done a tremendous job of getting the players with the community. And it's the holiday season, you're thankful for a lot of stuff, you're thankful for your loved ones, family, friends and people that you haven't even met and it's just the giving season."
The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, which is the largest hunger-relief organization in Northeast Ohio, supplied more than 50 million meals in 2015 to individuals in Ashland, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Richland counties throughout the year.
"You never know when your next meal might come, it's a mindset you have growing up," said running back George Atkinson III, whose family used the services of local food banks to help buoy them through tough times. "It's all about work ethic at the end of the day and making sure you can provide for your family in times of need and never giving up."
In conjunction with the food bank, the Browns host Taste of the Browns each year, where Cleveland's top chefs gather in an effort that raises money and awareness about hunger in the local community.
The 18th Annual Taste of the Browns this past September — which was co-chaired by tight end Gary Barnidge and former linebacker Judge Dick Ambrose — raised enough money to provide nearly 1,000,000 meals to those in need in the Greater Cleveland community.
"The Cleveland Browns are an incredible partner of the Cleveland Greater Food Bank and have been for many, many years," Warzocha said. "Just this year along through the Taste of the Browns and other events like the event today and contributions to help us provide holiday turkeys, the Browns alone have made more than a million meals possible in our community."
Browns fans showed their generosity Sunday when more than 1,400 pounds of food were collected at FirstEnergy Stadium through the annual First and Ten Food Drive. Totals are currently being calculated and the final number of meals made possible through the drive will be posted towww.ClevelandBrowns.com soon.
The Browns are dedicated to #give10 through the team's First and Ten initiative. Launched in June 2014, the Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign is the team's community program, established to inspire fans to volunteer in and help their communities throughout the world by volunteering for 10 hours each year.
Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10.
All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10.
For more information, visit ClevelandBrowns.com/community.