ST. PAUL – "We've got one here, boys!"
Riley Reiff is a leader of the Vikings offensive line on the field, and he demonstrated the same direction recently at The Salvation Army.
Reiff led his fellow linemen toward a car that had pulled up in front of the garage. Center Pat Elflein and tackle Aviante Collins cheerfully greeted the driver of the vehicle and exchanged two vouchers for two large bags full of food.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" They shouted as she drove away with a holiday meal.
Reiff, Elflein and Collins were joined by teammates Mike Remmers, Brian O'Neill, Tom Compton, Brett Jones, Danny Isidora, Cornelius Edison, Storm Norton and Adam Bisnowaty. Five wives and girlfriends of the linemen also participated.
The Vikings and UnitedHealthcare donated funds for the food and handed out 120 meals to St. Paul families in need. Each bag had been packed by UnitedHealthcare employees during the day and included a turkey, a pumpkin pie, sack of potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, corn, beans and gravy.
"You can see how happy they are. They're thankful, and any way we can help out around holidays, bring a smile to their face, it makes us feel good, too," Reiff said.
Reiff wasn't surprised that nearly every offensive lineman was able to make it to the event on the players' day off.
"Offensive linemen are pretty tight. We just put it in a text message that we're going to be here, and everybody shows up," Reiff said. "It's good. With how many meals we handed out, we needed everybody here."
Members of the Vikings offensive line distributed 200 meals to families in need at the Salvation Army - Citadel Worship and Community Center in St. Paul.
Added Remmers: "We just like to give back to the community together as a team. We just made sure that everyone was out here to support the cause, and it's been amazing. This has been a lot of fun."
Temps dipped to just below 20 degrees when the sun went down, but the Vikings teammates embraced the chilly conditions and maintained high energy.
"We've got an assembly line moving right now, and we just had a rush. I think guys are a little out of breath," Elflein quipped. "But we're having a good time. This is what it's all about – using this platform to give back to the community. Being around some good people, and all the wives and girlfriends are here, too, so it's a team effort. It's fun."
While several families came through in cars, other individuals walked through for their meals and spent some time chatting with the linemen.
"Wow, you're strong!" Exclaimed one young girl who gave Elflein a hug.
The players gathered together several times to snap photos with families and handed out encouraging words in addition to a healthy meal.
Remmers, a father of two, made it a point to chat with some of the children in the cars and even took a few minutes – along with Isidora – to step inside and play with some young children in the gymnasium.
"It just makes you feel blessed and very fortunate. I'm thankful that we're able to give back and help these people out," Remmers said. "Especially during the holidays, it can be tough on people, and it's nice to help out and make sure everyone has a nice meal."
Lt. Jonathan Taube of The Salvation Army was impressed with the Vikings efforts and teamwork.
"It really means a lot. Whenever we have opportunities to invest in one another, to invest in our community and our neighborhood, it's meaningful," Taube said. "And especially when a group like the Vikings takes the lead and sets that example, I think that's really powerful. It reminds us that we all have opportunities every day to care for one another, to spread holiday spirit, and I think our country could use a lot of that right now."
O'Neill said he didn't hesitate to jump in when he heard of the opportunity. The rookie emphasized the significance of doing the activity as a position group.
"We try to do everything together, kind of regardless of what it is," O'Neill said. "That's just the nature of our position, and it speaks to the relationship the guys have built with each other in the room."