Jarred DuBois knows what it’s like. Growing up in Inglewood, Calif., the Utah guard would occasionally spend Saturday mornings with a group that helped feed the homeless. What started out as simple volunteer work became more personal to him about four years ago when his father began living out of his car despite holding a full-time job. DuBois said his father did this so he could financially help some struggling family members.
So when DuBois went to a Twilight Concert Series show July 19 at Pioneer Park, Nas’ performance isn’t what caught his attention. On the outskirts of the crowd was a throng of people who appeared to be without a home.
Drawing on his past, DuBois gathered freshmen teammates Brandon Taylor, Justin Seymour and Dakarai Tucker, and the group came up with the idea to prepare sandwiches to give to the homeless at the park. The project has turned into a weekly Sunday activity. The players don their Utah athletic gear, head to Smith’s in the morning to buy food and bottled water, then make the sandwiches at home and go to the park. They typically purchase about 10 loaves of bread each week to make sandwiches.
“I just thought we could do something, maybe start a trend that a whole lot of people will start doing and it will grow slowly,” DuBois said.
Grown it has. At the group’s most recent Sunday outing, nine Ute athletes joined together in volunteering — members of the women’s basketball and volleyball teams joined the original quartet of men’s basketball players. In the span of an hour, the athletes had distributed sandwiches and water to the majority of the people in the park. They even placed a sandwich and bottle of water next to many people who were sleeping.
“It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s a humbling experience, truly,” DuBois said. “Everybody sees that how we live is not the way everyone in this country lives, even in this city. Even 10 minutes from this nice campus, there are people who live a whole other lifestyle.”
Freshman Dani Rodriguez of the women’s basketball team has joined the group for the past three weeks. She said having the opportunity to take part in serving those less fortunate has helped her realize how good her life is as a student athlete.
“We’re lucky to have the life that we have,” Rodriguez said. “It’s nice to give back to them that aren’t so fortunate. We’re going to school, playing basketball, we’re getting an education and doing what we love. It’s hard for them out here. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Man, my life is hard.’ Then I look around and I’m like, ‘No, it’s not that hard.’ It’s nice to be able to give back like this.”
Prior to starting the sandwich tradition a few weeks ago, DuBois and some of his teammates would go to breakfast each Sunday morning. A churchgoer on Sundays growing up, guard Taylor said adding the activity of feeding the homeless to the weekly breakfast is a fulfilling way to spend his Sunday afternoons.
“Even though a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not a lot [to give], it’s something,” Taylor said. “I don’t have a church here, so it feels like a good thing.”
The first few Sundays the players went, DuBois said some people at the park were skeptical of them, but they’ve started to become friends with and learn from some of the people they’ve served.
“You can learn a lot from people like that,” DuBois said. “Everybody’s story is different. You don’t know why they are in that situation. A lot of people assume that they are dumb or on drugs, but stuff happens. I’m homeless back home so when I go home it affects me personally. My dad has a full-time job but still lives in the car. So you don’t know a random person on the street, you don’t assume that he’s on drugs. You don’t know what happened to him.”
But it’s not just older adults the group has served. Teenagers and even children have been beneficiaries of the food the Utes provide.
“That’s the most touching,” Taylor said. “When you sit and talk to these little children and they ask, ‘Can I have more?,’ you want to give them more, way more.”
Even though the athletes have been going to the park on a weekly basis since July, it wasn’t until late August that head coach Larry Krystkowiak caught wind of the activity. Upon learning about it, Krystkowiak said he was most impressed by the fact that his players weren’t advertising their efforts, as some might in such a situation. Instead, he feels as though his players are taking to heart a goal he as a coach has set for them.
“One of our buzzwords around here is I’m asking our players to kind of be the mayors of [the athletic program],” Krystkowiak said. “They are going to represent us and give us a sense of pride.”
One peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a time.