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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Women’s volleyball partners with Journey 21 and Hunger Task Force in effort to give back to Milwaukee community

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(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

When crafting his volleyball team, Marquette head coach Ryan Theis makes it a priority to obtain players that want to make a difference in the community.

So when his team spent an afternoon volunteering with smiles on their faces, he was not surprised.

“Signing up for community service is hard, their schedules are busy. But anytime we do it, it’s so much fun,” Theis said. “They don’t really bat an eye. They say ‘Let’s go do this’ and they jump in with bright eyes and bushy tails and have fun with it.”

Last week, the Marquette volleyball team partnered with Journey 21 and the Hunger Task Force, a nonprofit organization and local food bank, to pack boxes, work with children with disabilities and ensure people in the Milwaukee area were getting their necessary food.

Milwaukee County has many food deserts, which are lower-income neighborhoods that have limited food offerings, forcing people to travel long distances for basic food. So bringing food to people that need it is necessary for many of the city’s residents.

Junior outside hitter Aubrey Hamilton’s mother, Heidi Bunek-Hamilton, works full-time for Journey 21, which made it possible to set up the event with the volleyball team.

What made it easy though was the team’s willingness to give back and make a difference.

“I’m just very grateful that we have such an awesome team that is so selfless and thinks about others and just wants to be more than just an athlete,” sophomore setter Ella Foti said.

But what is the root of this importance on giving back to the less fortunate?

For Foti, she said it is an understanding of how privileged the Marquette student-athletes are.

“We are given so much. Why can’t we give some of this back to others,” Foti said. “As athletes we’re put on a platform, so when we’re here for this short amount of time, why not try to make the biggest impact you can in your community and with your school?”

At the facility, sophomore outside hitter Jenna Reitsma was in the final group on the assembly line, meaning she was in charge of quality and quantity control with the boxes.

“They want to have a full experience for those people and provide everything they need,” Reitsma said. “They don’t want a damaged can, they want them to have a normal can that has good quality food.”

Foti packed vegetable soup into boxes, but the multi-basketball court size warehouse had beef stew, peaches, soup and cereal amongst other food items.

Theis said that the team got through around 40 boxes every 10 minutes because of the assembly line setup.

“Unbelievable how much food they have and how much giving they do,” Theis said. “The warehouse was, you could have fit 20 basketball courts in there and the thing is just stocked full of food. We just helped box and package and get stuff out and everything has a system.”

Each member of the team was paired with a child from Journey 21 that had a disability.

Reitsma said the team broke the ice with the kids immediately, forming a tight knit relationship with them.

“We started off the day with introductions of your favorite ice cream or your celebrity crush,” Reitsma said. “Everyone was immediately laughing, getting into it.”

Foti was paired with a young girl named Anastasia and the two talked about everything from her recent graduation from Concordia University to the ongoing Taylor Swift Eras tour.

Regardless of who the athletes were paired with, the takeaway was the same: the memories will never fade.

“There was always so much to learn,” Reitsma said. “We didn’t know each other but we were able to immediately be comfortable and have those moments that you’ll remember forever, the joy that you have with those people and I think that’s really important.”

At the end of the day, after everyone’s hard work was complete, 280 boxes were packed and ready to be shipped out to the Milwaukee community.

“Hearing that, it’s like ‘Wow, that’s 280 people that you just helped in two hours, three hours,'” Foti said. “That was really cool. Our team, we always have fun together just doing different stuff, and it was just a really great experience and I hope we’re able to do it again.”

Theis said doing charity events helps to build and grow team chemistry.

“It’s a positive experience for all, so they are all doing good for the community,” Theis said. “They’re all enjoying it, and it’s [something] we can do together and all feel really good about.”

Odds are this is not the last time the team will be partnering with Journey 21 because it is not the first time.

The team frequently hosted those from the 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity organization at games this season, something that Reitsma said, with the help of Bunek-Hamilton, is going to continue.

“I know that there will be stuff within a season once again. They like to come to a lot of our matches,” Reitsma said. “Hopefully we get to get back into the volunteering outside of the Marquette campus space and just being able to have more of those opportunities.”

So next year, when you see a large group of screaming children donned in blue and gold packed into the Al McGuire Center, just know what it really means to both the kids and the team.

“They aren’t afraid to show how much they love volleyball and love Marquette,” Reitsma said. “It makes you feel good inside knowing that you’ve had that impact, that you’ve created that relationship with them.”

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached [email protected] or on Twitter @JackAlbrightMU.

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About the Contributor
Jack Albright
Jack Albright, Executive Sports Editor
Jack Albright is a sophomore from Charlton, Massachusetts studying journalism. He is the Executive Sports Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-24 school year. In his free time, Jack likes to hang out with friends and watch Formula 1. He is excited to write fun stories about all things Marquette athletics and oversee new types of digital content.

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