Student-athletes giving back

The Gophers are in the midst of a food and toy drive.

Michael Rietmulder

While some Gophers athletes have recently run into negative publicity, the University of Minnesota athletics program is trying to shine light on activities that benefit the Twin Cities. The UniversityâÄôs Student Athlete Advisory Committee was recently recognized by the national SAAC for its outstanding work in the community. The SAAC is the body charged with leading community outreach events, like the annual Allianz HopeKids HopeDay Festival. The festival brings seriously ill children to the University for a day of festivities like rock climbing, face painting and pony rides. Events like HopeDay earned the UniversityâÄôs SAAC a 2009 Award of Excellence. The University was one of two schools to receive the award, along with the University of Houston. The SAAC is comprised of two representatives from each team, allowing student-athletes from all sports to participate. The committeeâÄôs work does not stop with HopeDay. The SAAC is currently running a food and toy drive to benefit Second Harvest Heartland, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization, and St. JosephâÄôs Home for Children, which provides shelter for children with emotional and behavioral issues. Student-athletes have been collecting donations at recent University sporting events, including FridayâÄôs menâÄôs basketball game. Freshman Alicia Gruenwald and sophomore Kristin Anderson, members of the UniversityâÄôs rowing team, diligently stood at the entrance to Williams Arena collecting donations from fans Friday. Gruenwald said they decided together to volunteer their time, which athletes are not required to do. She also said participating in the food and toy drive has helped team chemistry by giving her and her teammates an opportunity to get to know each other outside of practice. Anderson stressed the importance of student-athletes to âÄúget out in the community.âÄù The University has already collected over 1,000 pounds of food and $1,200, according to Gophersports.com Fans will have the opportunity to make donations at FridayâÄôs menâÄôs hockey game and SaturdayâÄôs womenâÄôs hockey game, as well as at menâÄôs and womenâÄôs basketball games on Dec. 5 and 6.