George Atkinson III habits haven't changed.
The Browns kick returner takes ribbing from his wife regularly about how methodically he eats his meals. He'll rarely clean his plate, often stashing what's left over for a future meal. As a professional football player 11 games into his first full season, Atkinson has a seemingly endless array of resources at his fingertips, but he's not above filling his refrigerator with tupperware.
"I'm always saying we can save that food, we can save that for later," Atkinson said. "She asks if I can throw that out because it's just a habit. Growing up, that's what we did."
Atkinson hasn't forgotten what it's like to wonder what would be on the table for his next meal. During the early years of his life, Atkinson, his twin brother Josh and his mother regularly would make the trek to his local food bank in Stockton, California to stock up on produce, yogurt and other canned foods. It helped the family get by during the tougher times, when support from family and friends simply wasn't enough to suffice.
As he grew older, those tougher times dissipated, as he eventually moved in with his father, George, who starred for the Raiders from 1968-1977 and garnered the nickname "The Hitman" for his bone-crushing hits. Still, those early struggles formed the values Atkinson carries today, and he's made it a mission to give back in the same spirit of those who helped put food on his plate at an early age.
"We had ups and downs. When we had our downs, that's when the food bank played a role and helped us out when we needed it," Atkinson said. "I think it's important for families to have that type of help when you're down. It's good to have that support. Me, I've been fortunate enough to get in this position and give back to an organization that helped my family in times of need. It's a blessing for me and I feel like it's needed."
On Tuesday, Browns players, alumni and staff, as well as the, Browns Women Organization, will join the Greater Cleveland Food Bank to prepare Thanksgiving meals and package food items to be sent to local shelters, food pantries and food sites throughout Northeast Ohio. The gathering 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.
Atkinson will be front and center during a shift in the early afternoon. He'll be one of 18 players expected to #give10 at a facility that gets awfully busy during the holiday season.
Atkinson said it usually catches people by surprise when they find out the son of an NFL player needed the assistance of a food bank throughout his childhood. He's embraced it rather than hide from it.
"It made me who I am," Atkinson said. "It's not something I'm discouraged about. It's something that made me who I am today and motivated me so my kids won't have to live that way at all. I didn't grow up with a silver spoon but I've been blessed to have my family in the future maybe have that.
"Even with me having to get help from food banks at a young age, there still is hope. It's not the end of the rope because you need help at a certain time in your life. It's a time to seek that help and reap the benefits for it, but you also need to have it motivate you to reach another level in your stage of life. That's what it did for me."