MINNEAPOLIS – Harrison Phillips and Dalton Risner spent their Tuesday evening getting to know cancer warriors and their families.
The Vikings teammates last week visited The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, where they joined U.S. Bank volunteers in serving residents a meal catered by Wildfire. Risner and Phillips then spent an hour sitting down at different tables and hearing personal stories from those battling the disease.
Phillips met one individual who is striving to survive long enough to locate a compatible bone marrow donor.
"When you hear what these people are going through … there are just some really sad stories," Phillips said. "If you can be any glimmer of light, or bring one smile or one distraction, then you're making some type of impact.
"This really provides you with great perspective, too," he added. "I've been over here kicking rocks [about the Vikings start to the season], down in the dumps, and you get a little bit more perspective on life."
Hope Lodge Assistant Manager Briana Fodstad explained the facility provides a temporary home for those undergoing cancer treatments at Twin Cities hospitals and clinics. Some stays can be as little as five-to-seven days, while others are 300-plus days.
The Hope Lodge has a comfortable, homey setup that includes the community kitchen, interior décor and a downstairs movie room.
"We try to provide more of a community aspect than anything," Fodstad said. "We want to be that safe haven for people.
"They often joke it's the place they love to come to – but never want to have to come to," Fodstad added.
The Vikings and U.S. Bank have partnered to provide and serve meals throughout the month of October, in conjunction with the NFL's Crucial Catch initiative.
"It's a godsend to not have to think about what you're going to prepare for dinner after a whole day of treatment," Fodstad said.
As of last Tuesday's event, Risner had only been in Minnesota for two weeks but already has shown a commitment to the Twin Cities community.
Giving back has always been important to Risner, in large part because of his Christian faith, and it's been important to him to impact his new home in whatever way he can.
View photos of Vikings defensive lineman Harrison Phillips and guard Dalton Risner visiting the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge where they served dinner and spent time with the residents and their caregivers.
Minnesota has actually been on Risner's heart since first visiting the Vikings in August.
"My life story this year, between feeling like I kind of lost my job [in Denver], a lot of family stuff, it's just been really hard. I feel like I was just waiting for God to open a door," he explained. "And I feel like when He opened this door to Minnesota, like, there were some weird things that happened."
Risner mentioned quarterback Kirk Cousins wearing No. 66 at Vikings Training Camp the day the offensive lineman visited. Risner understood the jersey swap had been an ode to teammate Ryan Wright, but the coincidental timing still made him smile.
"Then my wife and I left and went back home to Denver – [where of course] we'd never, ever heard a Kirk Cousins commercial – but we're just driving around Denver and Kirk Cousins comes on the radio," Risner laughed. "We're just like, 'God, what are you trying to say?' We just felt like we were going to end up in Minnesota.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, I believe in the sport of football not just being about football," he continued. "Coming from a family that didn't have a lot, coming from a family who – we got Christmas presents dropped off at our doorstep … I just see people who need help and want to impact people's lives. I just wanted to jump right in. I want to be a blessing to the Minnesota community – not just the Minnesota Vikings football team – and it's just such an opportunity."
Risner and Phillips, both of whom were Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominees by their former teams, appreciated the low-key, comfortable atmosphere that allowed them to have lengthier conversations with small groups of people.
The teammates share a belief in truly getting involved, not just showing face for a photo op.
"That's just not what it's about. So this is what I love about tonight – an opportunity to really engage," said Risner, who spent time praying with one family. "These people are battling for their lives. They're not battling on the football field. They're not battling at practice. They're literally in the battle for their lives – and here's an opportunity to go sit down with them and hopefully make an impact."
Fodstad confirmed the impression Risner and Phillips made, especially with Hope Lodge residents who had been too ill or immunocompromised to attend the Vikings Crucial Catch game against the Chiefs.
"This goes such a long way with people," she said.
Cam Bynum & Brandon Powell help host winter coat drive
Brandon Powell and Camryn Bynum learned quickly how important coats are while living in Minnesota – Bynum during his 2021 rookie season and Powell this year after signing with the Vikings as a free agent.
"My hands are still unthawing," Powell joked following a team walk-through session on a blustery, 40-degree day last week.
But Powell knows it will only get colder in the coming weeks, which is why the Florida native and Bynum, originally from California, partnered with UnitedHealthcare to host a winter coat drive Oct. 10 at Lyndale Elementary School.
After UHC volunteers passed out coats to the youngsters, Bynum and Powell spoke with students and shared why they're happy to spend their off days getting involved in the community.
The players are active in their home states but also are committed to the Twin Cities community.
"I'm here more than six months out of the year. This my home away from home," Bynum said. "This is really important, especially during the season. It's easy to get so caught up in football and just to think, 'I'm an NFL player.' But no, I'm a person first. And I need to serve other people.
"Doing that here in Minnesota is really important," he added. "These are the people who are rooting for us on Sundays, so we need to do our part and help support them, also."
Powell has a passion specifically for working with kids, whether in his hometown of Deerfield Beach or in Minneapolis.
"You have some of those families who might not be fortunate enough to get their kids the proper attire for winter. So to have this event and see them race out to recess, run around showing off their coats, it was a good thing to see," he said. "My dad was able to give me the things that we needed, even though we didn't have everything, so if there's anything I can do to help support these kids, be there for them, no matter where I'm at – I want to help kids out."